The first meal my husband cooked for me was Dahl Baht Thakari. A Nepalese dish. It was a dish he’d eaten every day for 3 years during his volunteer stint in Nepal.
Every single day.
For most of us eating the same food every day would be awful. So how did he manage to eat it day in, day out? The ingredients varied. Sometimes, there’d be cauliflower, other times, cabbage, occasionally meat. Different spices were added. There wasn’t an unlimited variety. Only what was available locally but it was enough to freshen up the meal each time and add that much needed variety.
When it comes to writing, we need to freshen up our repertoire by seeking out fresh verbs to keep our writing lively and interesting.
What are fresh verbs?
Verbs are the “doing” or “action” words in your copy like seeing, walking, running, finding, looking, working out. All these words are general. See what happens when you substitute more specific verbs:
He went up the hill
He struggled up the hill
He strode up the hill
He bounded up the hill
He trudged up the hill
Each alternative gives more detail about how he went up that hill. Our mental image of the the man changes with each fresh verb. You see him bent double as he struggles up the hill, whereas we imagine an upright figure moving purposefully when we read strode. Using more specific verbs adds colour and drama to the message. We can all get stuck in a rut with our writing.
Are your verbs a little tired from overuse?
If you write often, chances are you rely on a few favourite verbs. Take a look and you’ll find the same culprits turning up every time.
Nothing necessarily wrong with your well chosen verbs but all of us need a spring clean now and then so we can de-clutter and usher in the new.
Like the seasonal, local vegetables, your new verbs need to be fresh but not too unfamiliar.
Analyze the pictures these phrases create in your mind.
We brought the sheep off high ground
We herded the sheep off high ground
We steered the sheep off high ground
We hurried the sheep off high ground
We coaxed the sheep off high ground
We led the sheep off high ground
Each change of verb, conjures up a different image of the people doing the sheep moving. When you herd sheep you’re behind them, when you lead sheep you’re ahead of them.
One way to bring different verbs to mind, is to think of the picture you want to create first. Add in the detail. What’s the temperature? Hot or cold? Think of verbs that indicate those things such as, “puffed and shivered“.”
Does it really make much difference?
Make every word count
Your copy is competing with so much material online, make every word count. Fresh verbs convey so much more than the everyday general action words.
Fresh but not obscure
Be careful you don’t go mad and alienate your reader by choosing words they don’t understand. As the famous copywriter David Ogilvy found, this doesn’t help communication,
“I once used the word ‘obsolete’ in a headline, only to discover that 43% of housewives had no idea what it meant. In another headline I used the word ‘ineffable,’ only to discover that I didn’t know what it meant myself.” – David Ogilvy
Aren’t these verbs a bit dramatic for sales copy?
A bit of drama can liven up sales copy no end. Sales writers often use stories and examples to illustrate points. A few fresh verbs will add colour and ease the reader’s journey to the end of your copy.
Foodwise you can stay seasonal but spice up your cooking with new varieties. It’s the same with verbs. Reach for verbs that add extra juicy detail to your message.
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