You’re writing the final scene of your great sports novel. The underdog football team is in the fight of their lives and behind by a six points. The protagonist, the running back, gets the ball with two seconds left on the clock. You write, “He got the ball from the quarterback and ran through the hole for the winning touchdown with zero seconds on the clock.” OK, the underdog wins. But, your closing sentence is a bit anticlimactic. Perhaps a better closing sentence would be, “He got the ball from the quarterback, stumbled through the hole and stretched getting the nose of the ball across the goal line with zero seconds on the clock.”
In the first sentence the biggest action is “ran”. In the second, the back “stumbled” and “stretched”. Those two verbs conjure up more specific action than the weak “ran” and, as a result, gives the sentence a greater immediacy, thus adding more excitement to the ending of the story.
In the above example “stumbled” and “stretched” are strong verbs. So, what’s a strong verb?
A strong verb describes the action in a specific manner evoking a clarity and conciseness to the sentence. Notice four attributes of strong verbs: descriptive, specific, evocative and conciseness.
One source I found divided weak verbs into linking verbs and vague verbs. Linking verbs are the “is, are, was, were, be, being” verbs. They don’t really reveal any specific action. Vague verbs operate just as the name implies. They talk about action but don’t deliver the specifics. For example “run” can mean saunter, sprint, dash, gallop, etc. What kind of running was actually performed?
Using strong verbs means there are some things to avoid:
Google “strong verbs” and you’ll find articles with a listing of strong verbs. Print out one the lists and keep it near your computer. Let it remind you that there are verbs much more powerful than the vanilla ran, said, did, came, is, etc. Use the alternative strong verb and watch your writing soar.