Verbification, or how to tighten up your writing

DaisyThere’s no doubt about it, the current trend for verbification – using nouns as verbs – can have a profound effect on our writing. We have social media to thank for some of this – the requirement to express complex ideas in 140 characters was bound to have a minimising effect – though verbification has been around a lot longer than Facebook and Twitter. The knock-on effect is that our use of language has changed subtly to accommodate this phenomenon. We parent, we text, we friend. We used to set a trend, now we are trending. Our writing group used to offer criticism, now we critique. Once, I wrote pieces for this blog. Now I simply blog. The noun has become the verb.

Worryingly, hunting for antiques has become antiquing, in the USA at least. I’m happy to report that we haven’t succumbed to this practice yet in the UK.
Used sparingly, verbification can hoist mediocre narrative into a whole new sphere. Succinct and to the point it can add immediacy, speed action, and add a visual dimension to our writing, making it tighter, more interesting and arresting. Adverbs are unnecessary, writing is less wordy. We lose the pedestrian, what I call the getting from A to B type of narrative. Rather than describe how a policeman uses his badge to clear a route through a crowd, now we see him badge his way through. It’s concise, descriptive and visual.
But I appreciate that the purists among us might not be on board with this process. So here are some other ways to enliven our writing:

Use dynamic, active verbs rather than weak ones that require a qualifying adverb
She blundered, rather than She ran awkwardly
He fumbled with his keys rather than He handled the keys clumsily
She glared at him, rather than She looked at him angrily
He wrenched the door open rather than He went to the door and opened it

• Use dialogue tags sparingly
 If two people are talking there’s often no need for speech tags. The occasional ‘he said’, or ‘Mary asked’ are enough to help readers navigate a conversation. Anything else is overkill. We should help the reader visualise the scene and gauge the mood with our choice of words, actions and gestures – in other words, by showing rather than telling – rather than resorting to ugly tags like barked, grumbled, chortled, growled.

• Look carefully at ‘That’. It’s often superfluous.
 She thought that she’d never get there
 I think that I need to employ a cleaner
 It was the tastiest piece of pie that I’d ever eaten

Cut the fillers, they’re just padding.
 Really
 Very
 Actually
 Extremely
 Rather
 Sort of

• Eliminate repetition for tighter, more succinct writing
 Collaborate together
End result
 Climb up
Important essentials
Past history
 Descend down
 Heavy in weight
 Blue in colour
 Square in shape

• Avoid passive construction
There are many stars dotting the sky tonight
 Many stars dot the sky tonight
A large amount of chocolate was eaten by the boys
 The boys ate a large amount of chocolate

When writing to a specific word count, such as those set in short story competitions, being able to omit several words while still maintaining the meaning is crucial.

So, verbification aside, the moral of the story is:
 resist adverbs – choose stronger verbs
 use speech tags at your peril – reveal characters by their choices, mannerisms and actions
 eliminate extra words – combine sentences to remove repetition


2 thoughts on “Verbification, or how to tighten up your writing

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