Words & Phrases: Shun the Weak; Embrace the Strong

image by music4life

Try this exercise and see if you can improve the example below containing weak words and phrases. You’ll replace them with stronger words, cut wordiness, and add power words to spice up the piece. Have fun.

First, read the flavorless paragraph.

The Weak Passage

image by PublicDomainPictures

I went out on the balcony to get away from Edgar. On the next balcony over, Clare was up on a table and looked very much like she was ready to jump over the railing. Was she trying to get back at me for winning a fight with Edgar? I was really afraid that she’d make the leap before I could get from my place to her balcony. But I tried my best and got up on my railing. I almost lost my balance on the railing and fell myself. Finally, I jumped to her railing and then to the floor.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “You could have fallen.”

“I’m saving you,” I said.

“I’m just getting a better look at the view,” she said.

I couldn’t believe I’d been so tricked by appearances.

Problem Words and Phrases

Next, see what you can do with the following words and phrases to make the excerpt more interesting to the reader. Also, can you add some power verbs and nouns?

  • Balcony (repetitions)
  • railing (repetitions)
  • on the next balcony over
  • was up on a table
  • very much like
  • ready to jump over
  • trying to
  • get back at me
  • winning a fight
  • was really afraid that
  • make the leap
  • could get
  • my place
  • I tried my best
  • got up on
  • almost
  • fell myself
  • finally
  • jumped to
  • floor
  • said, asked, said
  • just getting a better look at
  • couldn’t believe
  • been so tricked by appearances

An Improved Passage

image by Pascal-Laurent

To escape know-it-all Edgar, I stepped onto my terrace. On the adjacent balcony, Clare stood on a table, poised to dive over the railing. Was this her revenge for the beating I’d given Eric?

Frantic she’d plunge to her death before I could race to the corridor and enter through her door, I perched on my banister like a raven. I teetered, planted a steadying hand on the stone wall, and pictured my bloody body flattened on the street. Gritting my teeth, I stretched one leg to her railing, shifted my weight, and hauled my other foot next to its mate. I dropped to her verandah.

Clare turned and faced me. “What are you doing? Your stunt was crazy and dangerous.”

Like a cat stalking its prey, I crept toward her. “I’m saving you.”

She swept her hand across the skyline. “I’m improving my vantage of the view, silly man.”

I collapsed into a patio chair. How stupid could I be?

A short exercise to improve a wordy passage that has weak words and phrases. Click to tweet.

I invite you to include your rewrite in the comments.

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

Enliven Your Dialogue with This Easy Exercise

image by geralt
image by geralt


What you can learn about dialogue from actual conversations is amazing.



Recall a discussion you’ve had that contained conflict. Write the dialogue down as close to what was said as you can.

I had this dialogue with my husband this morning:

image by USA-Reiseblogger
image by USA-Reiseblogger

Me: (descending the stairs) “Are you going to eat breakfast?”

John: (reading from his iPad) “Yes.”

Me: (after performing breakfast and other tasks while he continues to read his iPad) “Well, I’ve done all the tasks I can think of down here.” (my foot on the bottom step) “Call me when you’re ready to have breakfast.”

John: (closing his iPad cover) “I’ve been waiting on you.”

Me: “Me? When I come downstairs that means I’m ready for breakfast. I’ve been doing tasks down here until you were ready.”

John: (rising from chair) “I’ve been waiting on you. You haven’t cut your apple yet.”

Me: (pointing to table) “It’s already on the table.”

John: (looking at apple slices in a baggie) “How was I supposed to know you had apple slices in the refrigerator?”

Me: “I’ll try to be more specific when I come downstairs for breakfast in the future.”

What did I learn from this dialogue?


image by yank_sobirova
image by yank_sobirova

1. We don’t always say what we mean. I asked if he was going to eat breakfast because that’s the question he usually calls upstairs to me. Sometimes I skip breakfast. But he always has breakfast. What I wanted to know was whether he was ready for breakfast.

2. We use our actions to speak for us. I’d hurried downstairs because I didn’t want to keep my husband waiting for breakfast. When he didn’t rise immediately, I retrieved our breakfast items and performed other tasks. All obvious activities showing I was ready to eat. Wrong.

3. We create conflict through what we say. Instead of asking him if he was ready, I brought out my big gun. I told him to call me when he was ready.

4. We may speak truth from our perspective, but it doesn’t mean we’re right. John was waiting on me, but he was basing this on his expectation I would cut apples.

5. We can choose to keep the conflict going. I had ammo in my gun: I had apple slices on the table.

6. We become easily defensive by tone. When I pointed to my apple slices with my ta-da! attitude, John shifted blame. How was he supposed to know I was ready if I didn’t cut apples?

7. We may understand the other person, but we don’t want to give in. I could’ve said, “I should’ve told you I was ready.” Instead, my apology was a droll statement.

Much subtext occurred during our dialogue. It also showed the woman wanting the man to be in tune to her and know her wants. It depicted the man enjoying his “newspaper” and expecting the woman to tell him what she wants.

Use this exercise to create models for better story dialogue. Click to tweet.

What have you learned from actual dialogue that you used in a story?