Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Power Up Your Prose with Powerful Words

"Getting published is easy. Writing well is what's hard."-Gary Provost, Make Your Words Work. 

"In the long run, you learn rules only to deviate from them." -Dwight Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Powerful words are strong, active and tight. Use these easy lessons to take your prose to the next level.

1. Strong Words 

Use Strong Words-"Don't use weak general verbs like walk, cry, fall and touch if the situation calls for plod, weep, collapse, and caress." -Make Your Words Work.

"Substitute Action for Adverbs"-Techniques of the Selling Writer. 


The dog suddenly jumped on the mailman. Becomes: The dog pounced on the mailman.

"No," John said angrily. Becomes: "No," John said. His face reddened as he slammed down the stack of books.

Put Emphatic Words at the End of the Sentence.-Make Your Words Work.

 Don't let important words get lost in your sentences!

Tara called Mick and said she wanted to elope tonight, instead of waiting for Valentine's Day.

Sunday Mary Cooper will demonstrate how to properly bake strudel at the next cooking class meeting.

2. Active versus Passive 

There are times when passive voice is appropriate, but in general active voice is less wordy, crisper and has more energy.

"The ones you want are the active ones-the verbs that show something happening. Specifically, the verb to be is weak, in all its shapes forms and sizes."-Techniques of the Selling Writer.

"A verb in the passive voice voice contains a form of the verb "be" (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) plus the past participle of the main verb. 

Shall, will, have, has, had, are used in addition to "be" and the past participle of a main verb in forming the future tense and the perfect tenses. Any verb that contains a form of "be" and a past participle is a passive verb." -The Handbook of Grammar and Composition.

Miranda kicked her cheating boyfriend. (active)

Her cheating boyfriend was kicked by Miranda. (passive)

 In an active sentence the subjects...ACTS!

3. Tight Writing versus Wasted Words

Strive for tight, clear writing and eliminate:

 Wasted Words:"Extra words that serve no purpose and slow your writing down."-Make Your Words Work

In Write Tight, William Brohaugh describes these as "empty modifiers that sap power from your writing. 

Examples: very, extremely, really, generally, usually, basically, awfully, actually, literally, kind of, rather, pretty much, quite, a bit, certainly, essentially, mostly, somewhat.

Redundancies-"When you use two or more words to say something that is already being clearly said by one of them."-Make Your Words Work  

Example: red in color, long necked-giraffe.

See the Grammar Queen's recent in-depth post on this topic.

Techniques to Take Your Writing To the Next Level

1. Telling Verbs. Telling verbs prevent reader intimacy. Eliminate them when possible. By tweaking your words you can create deep point of view, show instead of tell, energize your prose and put the reader in the story.

Examples: She wondered. She watched. She glanced. She felt.

Instead, let your words show what is happening or being thought.

 She wondered if Jed really cared. Becomes: Did Jed even care about her? 

She felt sick. Becomes: Her stomach cramped in nauseous waves.

    2. Attributive Clauses. Writer Steve Almond describes the attributive clause as "that thing that comes after the quotation marks."

    "My mother wants to meet you tomorrow," Jenna said to Tim as she wiped the counter clean, careful to leave the salt and pepper shaker out for breakfast.

    "I'm busy," Tim said with a scowl as he stood and shoved the chair into the table.

     Tacking on action is not only confusing, and lazy, but waters down the sentence and often important information is lost.

    His recommendations (paraphrased): "Circle the attributive clauses in your manuscript. Use "said" as your only attributive verb. Rewrite using dialogue and or gestures in a separate sentence to convey the tone."

    Read the entire article, The Case for "Said" by Steve Almond here.

      3. Beats.  BookBaby Blog explains this technique well. (Using Beats to Bring Your Dialogue to Life: Turn the Beat Around) 

      A “beat” is a description of the physical action a character makes while speaking, and good beats can bring your characters to life and make your dialogue pop right off the page.

      Beats are also a tool to integrate showing instead of telling into your story.

      Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. Read Chapter 7 a good four or five times (Easy Beats), to really understand this writing technique.

      4. Details.  More important than offering the reader a platter of the five senses or a description of a car as a Honda or a BMW rather than a silver sedan is the why, why, why of the details.

      "Know the message the details are sending." -Alicia Rasley,(read the full article here) Details, Details.
        Know what those details say about your protagonist, and your plot. Realize that those details are making a promise to the reader. A promise that must be fulfilled.

        Which of these examples can you use to power up your writing? 

        Comment today for a chance to power up your words with a 10 page critique! 

         Tina Radcliffe is a mild mannered hermit who writes Inspirational romance for Harlequin Love Inspired as Tina Radcliffe and romantic comedy as Tina Russo. You can find her at

        Her latest release from Love Inspired is Mending the Doctor's Heart. Her first Indie release, The Rosetti Curse, will be available late August 2013.

        And keep your eyes on the newsstands for Tina's recent romantic short story release to Woman's World Magazine- on-sale date is August 22.


         She may look good in black, but Tessa Rosetti is not testing the family curse again. Three generations of women buried the men they love and confirmed Tessa’s belief in the Rosetti Curse. 

        Los Angeles cop, Thomas Riley, arrives back home in Silver Ridge, Colorado, to settle his grandmother’s estate, but while he's there he stumbles into trouble in the night. If his suspicions are correct, someone's cooking up more than biscotti at the local cookie factory.

        Together, Riley and Tessa renew their old bond and battle a curse that leads them on a journey of destiny to the love of a lifetime.

        "The Sopranos Meets Fried Green Tomatoes. Loved this book!" -Sharon Sala - author of GOING ONCE - Mira Books - October 2013.

        Here's a little Italian pre-release antipasto fun to prepare your tastebuds. Click here.



        1. Teeena!!! I can't wait for The Rosetti Curse. Love the cover.

          And now I'm off to sleep. See you in the morning. Hopefuly I have a full day of writing ahead in which I will use powerful words to the max!

        2. This was a bit like being back in Mrs. Hill's high school English classes. A lot to absorb.

          The Rosetti Curse sounds like a great read.

          Coffee's brewing.


        3. You've reminded me to dust off my Swain, and soon :)

          Can't wait to "finally" read The Rosetti's Curse :)

        4. Can't wait! Go indie, Tina!

          I needed all this today. 153 wonders in my current manuscript, the one I have to send in soon. I have been ripping them out. Next up, heard. Props to my good friend, Piper, for setting me straight.

          But you have given me even more to think about. I am going to see how many places I tacked on action.

          It is going to be a busy day.

          Peace, Julie

        5. Loved this post! I have started a list of websites I need to visit to refresh my memory of tips and rules. This will be added! I need to incorporate the attributive clauses and beats. I would love a ten page critique to power up my words! That would be very exciting! Thanks for the wonderful post and the many tips for making my manuscript shine!

          tscmshupe [at] pemtel [dot] net

        6. Great tips, TINA! And I LOVE the cover of 'The Rosetti Curse.' I think this may be one I read the first chapter or two of in manuscript form ages ago, so I can hardly wait to read ALL of it!

        7. Tina,

          Great advice, as always.

          Thanks for the reference book suggestions!

        8. Tina, this is great. I did not know about attributive clauses.
          Kathy Bailey

        9. First, Tina I can't wait to read The Rosetti Curse! Beautiful cover and the story sounds great!

          Thanks for all of the writing tips. This is going in the keeper file!

          Have a great day.

        10. Tina, thanks for the wonderful reminder of the importance of word choice and details! Excellent print worthy tips!

          Wow, I'm already eager to read The Rosetti Curse. Sharon Sala's recommendation has me chomping at the bit!


        11. Printing Tina's dictionary of writing 'uh-ohs' and taping to my computer. But hey - its hard to remember all of that stuff all at once. Let's see, I have a problem choosing strong words. I can get pretty passive sometimes. Write tight. I always thought that meant eat while I'm writing so my pants get snug. Hmmmm... So can't wait to read The Rosetti Curse.

        12. I was going to make a comment on the post, but then I watched the bit of antipasto...still laughing.... :)

          Now I have to go read the post again. I'll be right back.

        13. he,he,he (still giggling at the video)

          Ahem. I loved this post! A great refresher, but what really stuck out to me was this paragraph:

          "Know the message the details are sending." -Alicia Rasley, Details, Details.
          Know what those details say about your protagonist, and your plot. Realize that those details are making a promise to the reader. A promise that must be fulfilled.

          I love that - not just random details to create a setting, but details (and setting) that add depth to the story.

          Working on that today!

          Now I'm going to go back and watch the video again :)

        14. Great tips TINA. Always good to have examples.

          And that's Italian.

        15. The cover and description of The Rosetti Curse have me hooked. I already know the author's awesome :) can't wait to read it.

        16. Oh, and the tips were great too! I need to print this one out, thanks for sharing.

        17. Great post Tina! Lots to think about here! I love talking about craft. I didn't get enough of that at RWA, and this post feels like a workshop so thank you for that.

          And you are welcome Julie! A fresh pair of eyes on one's work can be helpful. That's why a critique would be cool! Put me in!

          Congrats to Cindy!

        18. This definitely will be a good reminder for me when I go back to revise...there's nothing so annoying as when a person "tells" instead of "shows." :)
          Btw--I completely changed the beginning of my WIP. I'm hoping the plot issue is on its way to being fixed.

        19. Tina, I went and looked on Amazon and The Rosetti Curse is NOT there. Why do you torment us so????

        20. Oh Tina,I hate active verbs. Let me take that back, I hate writing active verbs, but love to read them.

          I keep thinking it'll become natural if I keep practice, but it's like trying to teach my great dane to use a fork.

          BTW, LOVE the cover of your book.

        21. Totally love the cover for Rosetti Curse. And thanks for the reminder about all the little things we can do to beef up our writing.

        22. Hey, Tina!!! Great tips! I love reading these, because it helps keep the principles of good writing in my head! :-)

        23. Buongiorno!

          Tina, can't wait to read your book! Love the cover--(and biscotti)!

          Great post---I need to use ALL your Powerful Words advice!


        24. Great tips Tina. The examples really help me out. I'm so excited about your book!

        25. LOL. Julie. Go kill those less than powerful words!!

        26. Mary Connealy! I said it will be available in late August.

        27. Thanks, Glynna! I am certain everyone read the beginning of this story at one time or another.

        28. Okay, pause here. Time for some espresso and a little pignoli.

        29. This is a fantastic post, Tina.
          If there is anyone who does NOT REALIZE how fantastic this post is, you probably need to read it a lot harder.

        30. Mary, are you referring to the Italian family that comes with every new Fiat 500?

          I agree.

        31. The more familiar you become with these techniques, the more you'll be able to incorporate them into a first draft.

          But don't be intimidated by them. Simply use them now for your editing process.

        32. Kathy, I was APPALLED when I first read the article on attributive clauses. Because this is my favorite lazy writing.

          Me Culpa.

        33. Thank you, Jackie. The Rosetti's and the Riley's thank you as well.

        34. Janet, Sharon Sala recommended this story to her agent years ago and now said agent is also my agent.

          The story was not a good market fit so now she flies solo.

        35. "Write tight. I always thought that meant eat while I'm writing so my pants get snug. Hmmmm."

          I tried this, Cindy. Sure way to gain ten pounds fast.

        36. OH MY GOSH, Jan. I have watched that video ten times. Now I want to make some Papparadelle and wild mushrooms.

        37. RITA winner Linda Goodnight is in the Village today.

          Okay, time to pull out the really good Italian cookies. Yes. I was holding out.

          Pass the almond biscotti and fig cookies.

        38. Courtney! I am in love with your prose. I cannot wait to read more.

        39. Connie Queen and Naomi. Here have a little tiramisu. A little more. You look too skinny.

          Thank you for the kind words on my cover. I thank my cover designer

          Covers by Rogenna

          It helped that I am bossy and knew exactly what I wanted to the point of finding it myself.

        40. I had to watch the video again!

          And now I know how to pronounce "Papparadelle" :)

        41. Good morning, Ms. Regency! Good to see you here Melanie. I am thinking of writing a southern belle Italian next, btw.

        42. Sherida!! Bella!!

          Thank you for your kind words!!!!

        43. Piper!! I love a fresh read too. Currently my sister, the copy editor is tearing apart my pages with a fresh read.

        44. Terri! That's my mother's name.

          Short for Teresa. Are you a Theresa? or Teresa?

          Either way. You came here all the way from Oklahoma, so sit, eat, talk.

        45. Tina, I LOVE this post! Thank you!! I just ordered Techniques of the Selling Writer--it looks great--so glad you mentioned that. I think I will be bookmarking this post and reviewing it often, no doubt. God bless!

        46. Good morning, Amber!!! Techniques of the Selling Writer is a classic that never changes.

          It needs to be absorbed in small bites, however.

        47. Terrific tips, Miss T! A definite keeper for me (especially to help me remember certain words that weaken my writing *sigh*).

          SO excited about your upcoming release AND the Woman's World story--will be watching my local store to grab a copy of WW as soon as it's released. CONGRATS!!

          Hugs from Georgia, Patti Jo

        48. Thanks Tina, for the good writing tips. I have links to browse now. :-)

          I'm looking forward to reading The Rosetti Curse. It sounds soooo exciting!

          Today is my yard day... back outside for me, while you all have fun.

        49. Thanks for stopping buy, Mary Hicks. Come in after your yard work for a little pasta.

        50. Thanks, Patti Jo!

          Good to know my Southern Belle friends have my back.

        51. oooooooooooooo...
          that Rosetti Curse cover is awesome! i'm itching to read it.

          this post is very good for me. i try to implement this stuff when i do the writer's challenges over at eHarl. if i can write tight there, i can write tight anywhere.

          please put me in the draw for a crit. this may drive me to actually complete ten pages for perusal.

        52. Way to go, DebH. Just give yourself little rewards. A nice piece of garlic bread every ten pages.

        53. Oh, and Tina, your book The Rosetti Curse sounds wonderful!!!!!!!! I need to get it! And read it!

        54. Southern Belle Italian! TINA!!! You just created a new genre! I love it!!! Seriously. I've been listening to Dean Martin (whose birth name was Dina Crocetti, but you knew that) a lot lately. Oh. My. I think I'm in love. With that voice and when he sings in Italian--oh la la!!! Wait, no. That's French. Anyway, I want to read your Italian Southern Belle story!

        55. Isn't that a great sub genre. I'll get right on it, unless you beat me to it.

          Or maybe Adriana Trigiani beat us both to it.

        56. Tina, you said The Rosetti Curse is due out "in late August."


          I guess August 7th doesn't qualify as "late August," does it?

          You WILL let us know when it's available to buy, won't you?

        57. Yes. Jan, I will scream loud enough to hear in Sicily when it is out.

          Target date is the last week of August.

        58. Tina, I LOVE your cover!!! I'm so glad you're sharing it. Also love the blurb. And SQUEEE!! AN ENDORSEMENT BY SHARON SALA!


          Okay, I'll quit shouting in caps, now. But I'm so excited for this book to come out! :)

        59. BTW, also mean to say great post! It inspires me to clean up my writing. I'm always using too many words. I think it's a southern thing. :)

        60. Speaking of attributive clauses...

          I sometimes use them to vary my sentence structure. I wonder if that's a decent reason???

        61. I think we need to figure out how to put a pre-order link on Amazon for self-pubbed books.
          I wonder why there isn't?
          I wonder if the author doesn't know for sure when it's coming out comes out.
          Love the Rosetti Curse cover.

        62. Oops. I misspelled Dino. Dino Crocetti. Did you know that he could only speak Italian when he started to school at age 5? He still spoke in broken English in high school and dropped out in the 10th grade because other kids made fun of him. For a while he was a prizefighter. He fought in 12 matches, and he said, "I won all but 11." Just some Dean Martin humor for your afternoon.

        63. And I read and re-read the Attributive Clauses section.

          I sort of get it ... I mean I think I DO IT...but I struggle to put it into words.

          Unlike my hero... TINA


          I'm grinning with delight that the world will know what I've known all along, that Tina Russo Radcliffe is funny....

          Sharp as a tack....

          And I love Italian mothers that apply guilt with the efficiency of a three-decades brick layer spreading mortar...

          Thick, ribbed and EVER-LASTING, LOL!!!

          You rock, Tina!!!! I know you put other stuff in this post, technical stuff, but I went for the GOLD!!!!


        65. Okay, so, this shows how lame I am. I watched the fiat video multiple times with my nose pressed against the monitor trying to read those little white words and then poof -- the light bulb went off and I figured out how to go to full-screen! Duh!!!!!

          I guess I should have utilized my time by studying telling verbs and redundancies. Those are my weak points. They just slip in when I'm not looking.

          Looking forward to your romantic comedy release!!!! I love the cover too!

        66. Mary, we know when it's coming out. Some authors do get a pre order button if they can guarantee sales numbers.

          It's the last week of August btw.

        67. Southern gals get away with using extra verbage, Missy. It's like Italians talking with their hands.

        68. Kav, first go wipe those nose smudges off the monitor.

          hehehe. You are so cute.

        69. "I get it," Mary said, as she struggled to put it into words.

        70. Melanie that is lovely Dean Martin history. Thank you.

        71. Ohhhhhh, that looks amazing!

          I skimmed the article to get to the cover reveal. (Heard murmurs in the café and had to cross the street to see what was going on.)

          Love the blurb, love the hook, love it all.

          Can't wait, totally looks like my kind of book!

        72. Great article! I bookmarked all the pages and have a few of the books.


          My kids and I were laughing so hard!!! This is my life! And when the soccer goal happened, I was laughing-crying! Her face? that's my face every Saturday when the Mexican crowd shows up for soccer. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLLLLLLL.

          Oh, gah.


          P.S. just showed that to my husband and he said, "Italians are weird."


        73. The Rosetti Curse looks great. I'll have to pre-order. And a story in WW as well as the LI--wow, Tina, you'e on fire. Congratulations. (And thanks for the reminders about crisp writing)

        74. Thanks, Jane.

          I like to eat.

          I like copious amounts of peanut butter with my bread.

          Therefore I write.

        75. I love that ad. I have watched it no less than 20 times. After ten you start to pick up on some good fashion sense and subtle facial nuances.

        76. Argh! the bummer about coming to Seekerville this late in the day (couldn't be helped) is that I don't have time to read all the comments.

          I loved the suggestions you shared about powering up words. Thank you, Tina. I noticed some of the suggestions that, if followed, will take the reader into the deep POV of the character. Hmmmm. :)

          I'm fast drafting right now, but I suspect that if I were to go back, I'd see places where I tacked on an action as an attributive clause. I'm keeping that in mind from here on. I'm also going to read about beats. I think I do it, but I'm sure I can do it more effectively.

          I'm definitely going to check out some of the links you provided. Thank you, Tina for a great post!

          I'd LOVE to be in for a 10 page critique.

        77. PS—I'm really looking forward to reading your book too. It sounds wunderbar. Oh wait, that's German. Wonderful, fabulous!

          The cover is great too!

        78. Wunderbar = bellisima

          This is definitely a project for editing!

          Fast draft to the end first.

        79. Yes! A cover! And an intriguing one, at that. Congrats, TINA!

          Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is an amazing book -- or, in the case of mine, filled with pencil notes, highlights, stick'em arrows, and random slips of paper.

          The Alicia Rasley link about Details, Details is super. I'm thinking that is how I can power up my writing ... be sure I'm not tossing around details like confetti.

          So looking forward to The Rosetti Curse.

          Would love to be in for the critique. GULP.

          Nancy C

        80. Welcome to the critique drawing, said the spider to the fly!!!!

        81. TINA ... simply canNOT wait for The Rosetti Curse, girl -- WHOO-HOO!!!

          LOVE this blog -- SO much meat!!


        82. Thanks, Jules.

          Now if only I could find a profile pix as cute as yours.

        83. “I’ve heard the Rossetti curse.
          It’s Italian at its worse.
          And that Rosa Rossetti,
          when she’s good and ready,
          her profanities come in verse.”

          Even Destiny Yields to Fate


          Hi Tina:

          Every time I see the words “Rossetti Curse” my mind attributes the meaning as “Rosetta Stone”. This still happens with “Winter’s End” which I always see as “Writer’s End”.

          If you write a sequel I think “The Rossetti Stone” would really stay in reader’s minds.


          P.S. If you cannot set up a pre-order button, how about getting on the email alert list notification on the day the book is available? People on the list get a chance to win a prize.

        84. Vince, I can do THAT. Great idea.You are brilliant.

          Lets' see. All expense paid trip to my kitchen. First prize. Second prize, all expense paid trip to your flowers to see the Tina flower.

        85. Just popping in to say "Awesome cover!!"

          Need some time to digest all those tips! Looked great!


        86. Tina, I'm definitely looking forward to your next book and will be picking it up when it comes out.

        87. Speaking of pre-orders on indie books...

          Smashwords is working on that (it was mentioned at RWA conference). So maybe Amazon will follow suit.

        88. Yes. That was in the Weekend Ed. Missy.

          Great idea.

        89. Hey Walt. You Maggie finalist you! CONGRATULATIONS.

        90. And Congratulations to Cindy Regnier who was a top ten finalist in the FAMILY FICTION ROMANCE CONTEST!!! WOOT!!!

        91. TINA SAID: "Now if only I could find a profile pix as cute as yours."

          OH, give me a break -- your coffee cup picture is one of my ALL-TIME favorite profile pic on the Net, if not THE cutest one, God's truth. Every time I see it with those big brown Italian eyes and perfectly arched brow over that coffee cup, I smile. :)

          But thanks for the compliment you sweet thing -- get those big browns checked out, will ya?


        92. LOL. Jules. My web designer is doing a new web page for my alter ego. Not altar, Debby Giusti. And I am using that photo on it.

          We took 600 photos to get that one. Using three different mugs.

        93. Wow, I'm highlighting this post! Thanks for sharing, Tina!