Use distinct nouns & verbs

The more specific you are, the more universal you are. ~Nancy Hale

A good trick for making your flash stories more compact and meaningful is to choose just the right nouns and verbs. When you’re referring to an orchard, what type of orchard is it – apple, pear, orange? When your character is walking, is she ambling, strolling, meandering or wandering?  Using a distinct noun or verb creates a more vivid and immediate picture in your reader’s mind and enlivens the story.  Do beware of taking this too far however by using overly dramatic words. You’re seeking a balance between humdrum and overdone.

Speaking of verbs, it’s also more interesting and efficient to use active instead of passive verbs: “he limped” versus “he seemed to limp.” Plus, arriving at the right verb and eliminating an adverb will improve your story, such as “he wandered along the river” versus “he walked slowly along the river.” In Unless It Moves the Human Heart, Roger Rosenblatt writes, “… the right word is often the unmodified word. Most nouns contain their own modifiers and will not be improved by making them any taller, fatter, happier, or prettier than they are.”

Take out the story you’re working on, circle all the nouns and verbs, and see if they need tightening.

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Categories: flash basics, writing exercises, writing tips

11 Comments on “Use distinct nouns & verbs”

  1. August 27, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    Oh, these are spot on. I really want to go for Zowie or even atomic nuclear awesomeness. At least the middle road between the two. :-)

  2. May 10, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    What’s up, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this blog post. It was helpful. Keep on posting!

    • May 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

      Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. It’s always nice to hear that a post is helpful. Keep writing!

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