W-H-I-P is a Four-Letter Word: Action Verbs for Fiction Writers

After my brother-in-law read the first draft of Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, he remarked, “She is doing an awful lot of whipping.” And sure enough, Cassidy was: whipping her head around, her body, leg, a tight fist. I hadn’t realized my enormous love for this particular action verb until I’d re-read my fight scenes. Usage was downright flagrant and utterly cringe-worthy. It was humiliating! Okay, humiliating might be a wee-bit dramatic, but to this day, I swear I have an aversion to the word “whip,” and even wince when I see it in other written works. I can barely tolerate saying it!

“Whip” is my four-letter word and a reminder to not get lazy in my writing and push myself. (Note: I still use W-H-I-P in my writing, but selectively, and with grave reservations.)

If you find that your reservoir of action verbs runs on the dry side (or you forego verbs altogether and talk like this: “I home.”), help is on the way! More action verbs than you’ll ever know what to do with, though I challenge you to select five from the following lists each day and slip them into conversation, especially you “Verbophobics.” Good heavens! There is such a thing! I kid you not! Consult Wiktionary, if you don’t believe me. 😉

Fighting Words: http://linestorm.tumblr.com/post/98608734568/fighting-words-active-verbs-to-use-in-a-fight

Writing Tips: Choose Active, Precise Verbs: http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~cainproj/writingtips/preciseverbs.html

1,000 Words To Write By: http://dragonwritingprompts.blogspot.com/2009/02/1000-verbs-to-write-by.html

Elise Stokes lives with her husband and four children. She was an elementary school teacher before becoming a full-time mom. With a daughter in middle school and two in high school, Elise’s understanding of the challenges facing girls in that age range inspired her to create a series that will motivate girls to value individualism, courage, integrity, and intelligence. The stories in Cassidy Jones Adventures are fun and relatable, and a bit edgy without taking the reader uncomfortably out of bounds. Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, Cassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant, and Cassidy Jones and the Luminous are the first four books in the series.

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20 thoughts on “W-H-I-P is a Four-Letter Word: Action Verbs for Fiction Writers

    1. LOL, Linda. Seriously, I read these posts of mine and wonder if folks think I’ve experienced a major head injury or two. What can I say? I’m “blog-post” challenged. 😉 BUT, regardless, check out these amazing lists. Incredibly helpful.

  1. Oh, I also meant to mention The Emotion Thesaurus. Like your lists, this tool helps one come up with more precise action verbs. It’s organized by emotion rather than alphabetically and covers the gambit.

    1. Great tip, and I totally agree. Also googling (since this is a verb now ;)) phrases like “facial expressions” and “body language” will pull up a gamut of helpful resources.

  2. Ha! “with grave reservations”… That cracks me up. I think every writer has at least one overused word per book. The trick is finding it before the book goes to press and makes some poor reader knee-jerk their nose off in aggravation.

    1. It’s odd how the “pet” word differs in each book. As I read, sometimes it is amusing and other times annoying.

      1. We do get stuck on those “pet” words (love that). For me, they’re like rocks in the road. My mind stumbles over them, and it can take a few seconds to pull my eyes off the “rerun” and get back on track.

    2. Absolutely, Lia! As a reader, once I catch an overly used word, I fixate and start keeping a mental calculation of each occurrence. I don’t know if this is just my own weird little OCD habit, or the way our minds are generally wired. In the only Nicholas Sparks book I’ve ever read, it was “despite.” I can’t even remember the story, just that blasted repetitive despite, over and over and over again! No disrespect to the author. We all do it.

  3. What do you mean your posts are substandard, Elise? They’re always solid, helpful, and entertaining to boot. This is another good one! I’ll be bookmarking these resources as well as looking up the Emotion Thesaurus. I’d never heard of it.

    1. Thank you, Michelle, and what I meant was “odd.” LOL. I never know quite how to approach a blog post and find I get rather punchy. 🙂 That said, the advice is sound. These are incredibly useful lists to keep handy when writing, or at least during the revision process. Here’s the Amazon link to the Emotion Thesaurus: http://www.amazon.com/Emotion-Thesaurus-Writers-Character-Expression-ebook/dp/B00822WM2M/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444237837&sr=1-1&keywords=emotion+thesaurus. Wow, nearly 1K reviews. Many writers must have this in their Kindle library.

  4. I call these “word echoes” and they are the bane of my existence! 😉 I keep thesaurus.com handy just to stick something different in if I’ve used a word already in the previous sentence or two. Even more sinister are “phrase echoes”. Those are even tougher to tackle! Very helpful post, Elise!

    1. Sloane, I’m going to pretend I just didn’t read THAT word. 😉 Thank you so much! These sorts of lists do come in handy when writing. Sometimes they can also stimulate the creative juices, I’ve found, especially if you’re at a stand still or need motivation. Sounds strange, but reading through the third list of action verbs yesterday inspired me to work on my WIP. Best wishes with your current project(s) and have a prolific weekend!

  5. We often get stuck on one word, but when we finally see what we’re doing, it sticks out. I keep a list of words that I must search and destroy (replace) but its difficult. While writing a historical journal, I realized how many wonderful words have fallen by the wayside in modern language. It’s so much fun using them is a proper context. Thanks for this reminder, I’ll whip my words into shape once more. 🙂

  6. LOVE this Elise! LOL! And the lists are awesome, thanks!! I over use words as well, and have made a point to run through a “find” on MS Word for the culprits like “definitely” “totally” “absolute (ly)” and others… It’s a good exercise!

  7. I’m sorry it took me so long to whip up a comment on this post. But now that I’m whipping myself for being so lazy, I shove myself off my procrastinating butt and do so.

    Great post, Elise. I’ll bash myself on the head when I evade using different verb choices when I mutilate my writing with the same word choice. 🙂

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