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Weak Versus Strong Sentences (1 Viewer)

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
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. :)
 

Taylor

Friends of WF
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?
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
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)

 
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Taylor

Friends of WF
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.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
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.
 
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Taylor

Friends of WF
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.
 
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TheMightyAz

Senior Member
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.


 
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vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
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.
 

Backstroke_Italics

Senior Member
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.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
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? :)
 

Backstroke_Italics

Senior Member
As I said, it depends on the situation. So I don't think I can present inherently weak or strong sentences (except for obvious cases like ungrammatical or confusing ones). Instead I would apply a check list.

First, is there a reason to create emotional distance from the action? If not, remove emotional buffers like "She could see that..."
Second, unless there is a comedic perspective that justifies it, remove cognition buffers like "apparently" or "definitely." These first two points relate to weasel words.
Third, separate ideas into separate sentences whenever they can stand alone and do not benefit from a logical coordination.
By this point, most "weak" sentences will be shorter than before. Here is when it's time to think about word choice.
Fourth, shorten what needs to be short, and expand what needs to be expanded. Sometimes "run as fast as he could" needs to be "sprint," and sometimes "sprint" needs to be "run as fast as he could." What you need in a given situation depends on what information you need to convey, how the rhythm f the sentence fits into the larger paragraph, what kind of tone you're cultivating, etc.
Fifth, experiment with migrating information. Sometimes you can use a more specific verb and leave the direct object more general. Other times your highly descriptive verb might give way to a more elaborate direct object. "They dined" vs. "They ate dinner." Try both out loud and see which one feels better. Usually this will relate to rhythm and tone again.
There are other things to consider, but at no point is there an inherently "stronger sentence" in isolation.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
As I said, it depends on the situation. So I don't think I can present inherently weak or strong sentences (except for obvious cases like ungrammatical or confusing ones). Instead I would apply a check list.

First, is there a reason to create emotional distance from the action? If not, remove emotional buffers like "She could see that..."
Second, unless there is a comedic perspective that justifies it, remove cognition buffers like "apparently" or "definitely." These first two points relate to weasel words.
Third, separate ideas into separate sentences whenever they can stand alone and do not benefit from a logical coordination.
By this point, most "weak" sentences will be shorter than before. Here is when it's time to think about word choice.
Fourth, shorten what needs to be short, and expand what needs to be expanded. Sometimes "run as fast as he could" needs to be "sprint," and sometimes "sprint" needs to be "run as fast as he could." What you need in a given situation depends on what information you need to convey, how the rhythm f the sentence fits into the larger paragraph, what kind of tone you're cultivating, etc.
Fifth, experiment with migrating information. Sometimes you can use a more specific verb and leave the direct object more general. Other times your highly descriptive verb might give way to a more elaborate direct object. "They dined" vs. "They ate dinner." Try both out loud and see which one feels better. Usually this will relate to rhythm and tone again.
There are other things to consider, but at no point is there an inherently "stronger sentence" in isolation.

We're in full agreement again. Most writers with a little experience would immediately point to 'they dined' as the smoothest and more eloquent of the two, and they'd also point out you may want to use 'they dined' for a restaurant and 'they ate dinner' for a domestic scene, but that's by and by. Regardless of 'context', wouldn't it be fun just for people to write a weak sentence and then strengthen it? Of course context is important if that sentence is sitting in a fully fleshed out narrative, but because this is fun, does it really matter?
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Fun! Nice examples of clearly showing attitude/ demeaner. This example might also show intension.

A: He was asleep. Olivia put on her coat and left through the door.
B: He slept peacefully. Olivia slipped on her coat and tiptoed out, making sure to shut the door without a sound.

Let’s see if I can come up with examples for deeper feeling:

A: Olivia watched him sleeping. Olivia hated leaving.
B: The long fringe of his eyelashes resting against his cheek made him look young, almost boyish. Olivia knew this man’s joy that would fill them both as infectious as Christmas tree lights if he woke up with her in his arms. His joy seemed like a sacred thing, all the more awe-inspiring in that she knew she was its Maker. Olivia’s throat caught. She slipped on her coat on tiptoe, shut the door softly, and met the chilling dry air of that afternoon.

I’m probably trying too hard. I will likely edit. If I took this kind of care in every sentence like I do with a poem! Good job. Az. I guess that means we have to critique them as closely as poems? Eek! Not necessarily?

Edit: I have edited this so many times!
 
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bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
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. :)

To me, stronger verbs convey mood as well as action. So John shoving the door open both gets John where he needs to be and tells us about his frame of mind and the type of situation he's in. Ditto the other verbs.

'cos I'm in a self-promoting place right now, I'll paste a sentence from the followup to my first novel, in which I just saw a weak verb (dunno why I underlined that, just seemed funny):

Kenny must have flown them out of the black clouds, because when Echo came round, she was leaning against a rock.

I changed it to:

Kenny must have flown them out of the black clouds, because when Echo came round, she was slumped against a rock.

It needs to be passive voice because Echo's out cold. But I think it conveys a little more about the situation.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
To me, stronger verbs convey mood as well as action. So John shoving the door open both gets John where he needs to be and tells us about his frame of mind and the type of situation he's in. Ditto the other verbs.

'cos I'm in a self-promoting place right now, I'll paste a sentence from the followup to my first novel, in which I just saw a weak verb (dunno why I underlined that, just seemed funny):



I changed it to:



It needs to be passive voice because Echo's out cold. But I think it conveys a little more about the situation.

Nice. Nice use of of passive voice too. :)
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
Fun! Nice examples of clearly showing attitude/ demeaner. This example might also show intension.

A: He was asleep. Olivia put on her coat and left through the door.
B: He slept peacefully. Olivia slipped on her coat and tiptoed out, making sure to shut the door without a sound.

Let’s see if I can come up with examples for deeper feeling:

A: Olivia watched him sleeping. Olivia hated leaving.
B: The long fringe of his eyelashes resting against his cheek made him look young, almost boyish. Olivia knew this man’s joy that would fill them both as infectious as Christmas tree lights if he woke up with her in his arms. His joy seemed like a sacred thing, all the more in that she knew she created it. She slipped on her coat on tiptoe, shut the door softly, and met the chilling dry air of that afternoon.

I’m probably trying too hard. I will likely edit. If I took this kind of care in every sentence like I do with a poem! Good job. Az. I guess that means we have to critique them as closely as poems? Eek! Not necessarily?

I was hoping to keep them to single word choices but still great examples of how words change the mood. :)
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
I get you... more about the verb? Do some more examples then! I’m pretty excited about playing this game.... can I call it a game?

Yeah, you can call it a game if you want LOL. I just picked a sentence that allowed me to change 4 words

W - Sarah took her handbag off the table and gave it to the porter.
S - Sarah snatched her handbag off the table and threw it to the porter.

She wan't very happy with the porter ... :)
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
A: Olivia took the pins out of her hair.
B: Olivia eased the pins out of her hair.

I can’t help it!

C: Olivia took the pins out of her hair, and looked at them on the desk.
D: Olivia eased the pins out of her hair and lined 19 of them up on her desk in four rows, the twentieth she absently twirled, substituting it for a tooth pick for a moment.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
A: Olivia took the pins out of her hair.
B: Olivia eased the pins out of her hair.

I can’t help it!

C: Olivia took the pins out of her hair, and looked at them on the desk.
D: Olivia eased the pins out of her hair and lined 19 of them up on her desk in four rows, the twentieth she absently used as a tooth pick for a moment.

First one =D>
Second one :-"
 

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