Weak Versus Strong Sentences


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Thread: Weak Versus Strong Sentences

  1. #1

    Weak Versus Strong Sentences

    As I mentioned before, in another thread, there's a reason books, teachers and writing courses often advise their students to write poetry too. It's to get in the habit of finding the appropriate word, stronger word (or phrase) or a word that adds another dimension to the sentence. With that in mind, I thought it would be extremely helpful for beginners and intermediates (like myself) to see writers posting a weak sentence followed by a stronger version of it:

    W - John opened the door, looked for the bar, bought a whisky and drank it.
    S - John shoved the door, searched for the bar, ordered a whisky and tipped it down his throat.

    I really hope people participate in this because it's one of the fundamental building blocks of strong writing.
    Craft / Draft / Graft And Write To Entertain.

  2. #2
    I prefer the first one. 'Shove' doesn't seem natural and 'searching' seems like too great of an effort for the task. But to me they both say the same thing more or less, so why is one stronger than the other in your mind?

    I'll admit I am a beginner, but do you think this could be a matter of personal taste?
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    I prefer the first one. 'Shove' doesn't seem natural and 'searching' seems like too great of an effort for the task. But to me they both say the same thing more or less, so why is one stronger than the other in your mind?

    I'll admit I am a beginner, but do you think this could be a matter of personal taste?
    In one sentence John is just buying a drink, in the other sentence he appears to have a grievance. It's not personal taste, it's a completely different feel. And even if it wasn't 'shoved' is stronger than 'open', 'searched' is stronger than 'looked', 'ordered' is stronger than 'bought' and 'tipped it down his throat' is stronger than 'drank'.

    Consider these sentences:

    W - John opened the door, looked for the bar, bought a whisky and drank it.
    S - John shoved the door, searched for the bar, ordered a whisky and tipped it down his throat. (aggressive)
    S - John opened the door, slinked to the bar, ordered a whisky and sipped it (suspicious)

    Last edited by TheMightyAz; February 6th, 2021 at 05:24 AM.
    Craft / Draft / Graft And Write To Entertain.

  4. #4
    Sorry, I am not trying to be obtuse. But stronger as in less commonly used? I didn't really pick up on the grievance. It depends on what has happened previously. If it's not characteristic for him to go to bars, then the first one could be indicative of what's happening with him.

    For me, I have an issue when the words are fanciful beyond function. But I will try to conform to your thread. Let me think on it...

    EDIT: Ok I see where you are going with this.
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    Sorry, I am not trying to be obtuse. But stronger as in less commonly used? I didn't really pick up on the grievance. It depends on what has happened previously. If it's not characteristic for him to go to bars, then the first one could be indicative of what's happening with him.

    For me, I have an issue when the words are fanciful beyond function. But I will try to conform to your thread. Let me think on it...
    Be honest, if you was sat in a bar and someone shoved open the door, are you honestly telling me you'd see that as 'normal' and wouldn't immediately think something was wrong or that John was aggressive? And you've never picked up in films or books that someone tipping a whisky down their throat is a sign of anxiety or looking for trouble? 'Ordered' brings the bartender into the picture more than 'bought'. 'Searched' makes it more active.

    edit: I don't understand your edit. To be honest, I think you are being a tad 'obtuse' if you don't see the difference. The object of this thread wasn't to produce the most amazing sentence and discuss that sentence, the object of the thread was to have people offering their own weak and strong sentence.

    Forcing yourself to write a weak sentence alerts you to what a weak sentence is. Turning that into a strong sentence prevents you from producing weak sentences. It's all good practice and worth the effort. Stronger verb choices and more interesting verb choices are fundamental to stronger writing overall. Every single writing teacher, course, book, video will also tell you that. This isn't controversial. But for whatever reason, you want to fight against it in your first two posts. Why?

    Look, if my straightforwardness has in some way upset you, I'm sorry, but looking at your first two posts suggests the bee was in the bonnet from the very beginning.
    Last edited by TheMightyAz; February 6th, 2021 at 06:12 AM.
    Craft / Draft / Graft And Write To Entertain.

  6. #6
    Well it is controversial, because we are now in controversy. How does 'ordered' bring the bartender into the picture more then 'bought'? When you buy something there is a transaction so they are physically involved with taking the money, so they are much more active in the scene. 'Searched' seems awkward. How many times have you 'opened' or 'shoved' a bar door open and had to 'search' for the bar?

    I just personally think that if you write something and go with your gut feel, and then go back and wordsmith it to try to make it stronger, you can overwork it and make it sound awkward. That's just my opinion.

    But bear in mind, I am am only a beginner, so I look forward to learning more from this thread.
    Last edited by Taylor; February 6th, 2021 at 06:44 AM.
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    Well it is controversial, because we are now in controversy. How does 'ordered' bring the bartender into the picture more then 'bought'? When you buy something there is a transaction so they are physically involved with taking the money, so they are much more active in the scene. 'Searched' seems awkward. How many times have you 'opened' or 'shoved' a bar door open and had to 'search' for the bar?

    I just personally think that if you write something and go with your gut feel, and then go back and wordsmith it to try to make it stronger, you can overwork it and make it sound awkward. That's just my opinion.

    But bear in mind, I am am only a beginner, so I look forward to learning more from this thread.
    Like I said, I wasn't trying to present the best sentence ever and then discuss that sentence. It's just an example. 'Bought' is just a generic word. When you 'order' there's more to that image. 'Bought' still assumes a bartender, but 'ordered' puts that bartender more clearly in the picture. There's still some assumption involved, but not so much as 'bought'. Why does 'searched' seem awkward? I've searched for bars many times at night clubs and indoor raves. Someone who 'shoves' a door open is someone likely not in a great mood. It could be someone who wants to make a grand entrance too. As I said, it's just an example of considering the verbs (not always verbs) and using them to best create a stronger impression.

    As in the other example I added to try and explain more clearly:


    S - John opened the door, slinked to the bar, ordered a whisky and sipped it (suspicious)

    I'm not trying to put together the best sentence ever. I'd likely never use this sentence myself. I'm just using it as a template to demonstrate how changing the verbs changes the meaning (or inference) of the action, strengthening the sentence.

    Consider this sentence from my story. I'd decided to leave 'perched' there as a placeholder for now. I may have left it, I may not. But then I added another sentence to the beginning of the paragraph and felt like the 'perched' did extra work and strengthened a previous image:

    A solitary Carrion Crow, lost in the shivering canopy, called out as if to acknowledge a brother.

    A tree stump formed a makeshift seat and here he perched.


    Last edited by TheMightyAz; February 6th, 2021 at 07:32 AM.
    Craft / Draft / Graft And Write To Entertain.

  8. #8
    The referee blows the whistle and awards points to both sides.

    Az is absolutely correct in showing that the choice of verb adds texture, and defines the nature of the action.

    Taylor is correct in pointing out it can be pushed too far.

    I'm a big fan of replacing a drab word with a colorful word. In another thread a few weeks back Olly cautioned against replacing a 5 cent word with a 10 cent word, but you don't have to do that. You can replace a 5 cent word with a more flavorful 5 cent word. (However, at times the 10 cent word is fine. Don't "write down" to the audience).

    I believe Taylor's discussion of the second sentence comes because Az's change needs a bit extra to keep from jarring our internal ear.

    "John shoved the door, searched for the bar, ordered a whisky and tipped it down his throat."

    I think "shoved" needs an extra word, such as "shoved open" or "shoved through".

    Then, take the sentence as a whole. It has four important actions, which is pushing the limit of one sentence's capacity. Plus, it's so detailed that you're now missing a step, where John makes his way from door to bar. This sentence probably makes a better paragraph. Then you get to find out if the bar is crowded or bare of patrons and other details of choice.

    Back to Az's objection to critiquing his sample. He's right about that. It's just an example, and each change did add color. He didn't propose it as live content. However, adding so much color to one sentence can lead to it being overwritten, and I believe Taylor sensed that.

  9. #9
    There is a time and a place for words like "big," "open," "see," and "very." Not every attempt to thesaurasize a sentence is an improvement.

    A "stronger" sentence is a sentence that does its job. As AZ said, "shove" creates a different image than "open." But it's not an inherently stronger word, nor is it necessarily creating a more appropriate image than the word "open." If I had a nickel for every new writer who fills their manuscript with said bookisms because "opined is stronger than said," I would be a rich woman. I would caution against replacing words just to replace them. Think about what it is that's going on in the scene, and the correct words will present themselves. No thesaurus necessary. Maybe Jack threw open the door. Maybe he kicked it down. Maybe he blasted through it with a laser sword. Or maybe he just opened it. The answer is what it is.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Backstroke_Italics View Post
    There is a time and a place for words like "big," "open," "see," and "very." Not every attempt to thesaurasize a sentence is an improvement.

    A "stronger" sentence is a sentence that does its job. As AZ said, "shove" creates a different image than "open." But it's not an inherently stronger word, nor is it necessarily creating a more appropriate image than the word "open." If I had a nickel for every new writer who fills their manuscript with said bookisms because "opined is stronger than said," I would be a rich woman. I would caution against replacing words just to replace them. Think about what it is that's going on in the scene, and the correct words will present themselves. No thesaurus necessary. Maybe Jack threw open the door. Maybe he kicked it down. Maybe he blasted through it with a laser sword. Or maybe he just opened it. The answer is what it is.
    We're in agreement. So what are your two sentences to show a weak sentence and a strong sentence?
    Craft / Draft / Graft And Write To Entertain.

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