Quick–which of these three sentences makes the best read?
1. Victor was sick.
2. Victor felt sick.
3. Victor barfed on the rug.
Correct. Number three. Why? The secret lies in the verbs.
Verbs come in four stages of interest. Let’s take a look:
The most boring verb in the English language is to be. This includes be, am, is, are, was, were, been, and being. Yet many new writers use to be in four sentences out of five, and then they wonder why editors reject them.
To be bores your reader because the subject of the sentence merely exists (yawn) instead of acting (cool!).*
SLIGHTLY LESS BORING
Several verbs can replace to be, including look, feel, sound, taste, seem, appear, become, and others. “The dog is fluffy” or “My soup is salty” make for dull reading. “The dog feels fluffy” and “My soup tastes salty” come off rather better. However, these are still linking verbs. Nothing really happens in any of these sentences, and this you want to avoid wherever you can. (Sometimes you can’t, and that’s okay. Sometimes.)
Any action verb trumps any linking verb. But not all action verbs are created equal. Have is an action verb. So are get, give, run, and walk. Every one will interest your reader more than to be. These verbs are so common and overused, however, that they’ve lost all meaning. Some seriously boring examples:
Shelby got a book from the table.
Larry gave the dog a bone.
The twins ran from the room.
Willis walked sadly away.
By all rights, these sentences should be just fine. They avoid linking verbs and use action. But these sentence don’t sparkle. The verbs plod and thud, and they send the reader to sleep. Instead, try . . .
These verbs might leap off the page or quietly fascinate. They also specify. They create a sharp mental picture of whatever the subject of the sentence is doing. Let’s spiffy up those boring examples with some better verbs:
Shelby snatched a book from the table.
Larry tossed the dog a bone.
The twins bolted from the room.
Willis plodded away. (Notice that with the addition of a better verb, we can also eliminate the adverb and tighten the sentence.)
See the difference? So use that search function to seek out and destroy be in all its forms. Your writing will instantly snap and sparkle.
*Notice I’m talking about to be as a stand-alone verb, not as an auxiliary (or helping) verb. “I am destroying the world” doesn’t count as using to be, since destroy is the main verb.
–Steven Harper Piziks
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