Don’t Beat Me Over the Head

I have always been a huge advocate of using strong, active verbs in writing.  They move the story along with very little need for adverbs.  The correct verb can also provide emotion, description and attitude.  It packs a powerful punch.

However, I am in the middle of a book filled with strong verbs.  Every sentence utilizes a unique verb.  I have never wanted a was, is or a has been so much in my life.  For example:

“Regret graveled in his throat…”

“The scene fuzzed in his mind.”

“Low current shimmied in his mind.”

“He thumped to his desk….”

“Air shuddered down her throat.”

“Gravity sucked her blood to her feet.”

“His muscles startled.”

And my two favorites…

“Rage popped around his chest…”

“His rage splattered higher.”

These, and about twelve more, were found on two pages of my newest read.  While these images are vivid, an entire novel written this way has become distracting.  I am currently more invested in the verbs than the story. 

It just goes to show that there can be too much of a good thing.  Like anything in writing, balance is the key.  Beating your reader over the head with any kind of writing is annoying.  Because of that, I’m actually thankful to the author for writing this book.  It has taught me another valuable lesson on less is more.  Each manuscript will need to be reread with an eye to verb usage.  And so goes the writing life….

What are your best worst sentences?  The ones you thought were so poetic and perfect upon writing, but laughed at upon editing? 

Do you ever beat your readers over the head?  Have you read books where this happens?

18 responses to “Don’t Beat Me Over the Head

  1. That is the kind of book that always has a happy ending. You’re happy when it ends! 🙂

    • I actually like the story line. I’m just lost in all the unique phrases the author is using. I would love a few of them sprinkled here and there to bring home a point, but because of their frequency, I get distracted…

      Maybe it’s just me and my blonde hair!

  2. It would be hard to take the novel seriously, that’s for sure. You’ve made me curious. Is this the author’s first novel? Was it self-published?

    • Patricia,

      Interesting question. The answer is no. Author is award winning and a teacher. Over a dozen books have this author’s name prominently featured on the front cover.

      It could be an earlier works. That I didn’t check…

  3. I can’t remember where I read it, but I saw, “the towels reposed on the rack,” somewhere. That always struck me as odd. Should towels repose?

    My rage will splatter from here on out, though. ^_^

    • Barbara,

      I loved that one too. I thought the visual was quite unique. I like your towels reposing on the rack example. Some things just sound a bit off when read for the first time.

      Makes me wonder what kind of drivel I have in my manuscripts because I can’t hear it with a virgin ear. I know what it is supposed to mean. *sigh* I guess that’s why we have beta readers!

  4. Regret graveled? Really?

    I wish I could remember which sentence it was that I fought with last week. I tried to avoid “was” and rewrote the silly thing dozens of times. All of the rewrites sounded ridiculous. When I left it alone and kept “was” in place, I finally realized I was the one being silly 🙂

    • Jemi,

      Been there, done that. I think it is easy to get carried away with strong verbs. We don’t take into consideration all the connotations that each word has. We simply try to make a big impact when sometimes the beauty is in the simplicity.

      I know I’ve made this mistake enough times to merit a thorough check of all my manuscripts. Oh how I wish there was a magic editing wand!

  5. I try to creatively avoid “was” but I’ve found, in moderation, “was” becomes invisible like “said”.

    Like how do you improve on
    “She was young.”
    …keeping to three words…not going to happen.

    • Well, if we’re sticking to the over-the-top yowza verbs, then “youth enfolded her.” Ew, sounds icky. “Youth embraced her.” Not much better. I think you’re right. She was young.

    • Andrew,

      I think your quote says it all: I try to creatively avoid “was” but I’ve found, in moderation, “was” becomes invisible like “said”.

      Writing/editing is like a teeter totter ride: balance is everything.

      Thanks for the input.

  6. Barbara,

    I about split a gut. “Youth embraced her.”

  7. Terrific list. The trouble is, this writer has no ear – so doesn’t realise how jarring these sentences are. When a writer’s chosen their words well, they become transparent and there’s nothing between the reader and the experience.

    • Roz,

      I think your words here sum up our purpose as writers: When a writer’s chosen their words well, they become transparent and there’s nothing between the reader and the experience.

      If we can manage this, we have truly created a wonderful project.

  8. I think it’s hard to have any kind of lyrical flow, if the writer is constantly bombarding the reader with action and strong verbs and the mundane becomes over emphasized. It gives no time to rest the mind and soak in the story.

    Cat-You are right, balance is key! Now if I could just figure out the right ratio in my own writing. Great post, thanks!


    • Charlie,

      I know what you mean. It is one thing to “know” what we are supposed to do and another to seemlessly inject it into our own writing!

      When you figure it out, let me know!

  9. jmartinlibrarian

    Erg, I bet learning to write has totally changed the way you read. It’s hard not to notice things, now.

    BTW, if you’ll e-mail me, I’ll send you the autographed copy of SAVVY from the blog contest. 🙂

    • Jenny,

      oops, I keep forgetting. I’ll do that today. Also, you are so right when you say writing has changed my reading experience. Sometimes I love it, while other times it’s a curse.

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