Effective sentences help to tell a clear story. I’ll show why you should populate sentences with characters and express actions as verbs instead of nouns.
What Are Characters and Strong Verbs?
As I’ve discussed elsewhere, good writers frame the story they’re telling mostly around characters. Audiences process stories through characters. For example, Hansel and Gretel, Luke Skywalker, and Katniss Everdeen are characters. However, characters can also be organizations, institutions, other living creatures, tangible objects, concepts, and abstract entities. SmithCo, Paris, the neighbor’s dog, the MacBook Pro, and lease agreements are all examples of characters.
Verbs, in turn, are the most important words we use as writers and speakers. They convey action, keep readers alert, and add power to writing. When we use vague, boring, empty verbs, our sentences don’t convey action or tell a vivid story.
Where possible, steer clear of weak verbs like to be, to have, to do, and to make. Keep in mind, though, that writers sometimes need to use these verbs to describe something (a banana is an edible fruit) or express ongoing action (the kids are attending the concert).
Weak verbs often precede nouns made from verbs, such as implementation (implement), development (develop), and enhancement (enhance). These nouns are dull, dull, dull. Look out for nouns that end with -ment, -ance, and -tion.
Populate Sentences with Characters & Strong Verbs
Compare these two paragraphs, each containing 50 words. Characters are in blue; verbs are in boldface.
Excessively precise specification of information processing requirements incurs the risk of overestimation resulting in unused capacity or, alternatively, underestimation leading to widespread inefficiencies. Due to inadequate precision in information processing capacity specification, resource procurement is thus jeopardized. Fortunately, a degree of flexibility is permitted in subsequent adaptation to programmatic needs.
SmithCo employees may not lobby any federal or state agency while that agency is reviewing a SmithCo procurement contract. If you need to contact a federal or state agency during contract review, you must first request and receive approval from both SmithCo President Jana Smith and Marketing Director Joseph Rogers.
Neither paragraph is particularly fun to read. Nonetheless, let’s say each paragraph is part of a larger report. If you had to choose between the two reports, which one would you want to read?
Learn About the Persuasive Writing Engine
Arguments don’t live up to their potential when readers:
- Need to work too hard to translate ideas into a story they can understand. (Remember my telling of Hansel and Gretel vs. the story from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm?)
- Need to fill in any missing ideas from their own knowledge base.
- Judge writing to be indirect, abstract, dense, or unclear.
- Interpret the writing in an unexpected way.
- Distrust or become confused about the information shared.
Muddled thoughts make for muddled arguments. Too few characters and weak verbs make for unpersuasive arguments. The solution: The Persuasive Writing Engine.