Power Up Your Paragraphs – It’s Fun

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The Exercise

Pick a paragraph from your first draft or even from a book. Circle the

  • nouns,
  • verbs,
  • adjective, and
  • adverbs.

Circle them. Then use your imagination, thesaurus, or Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer. Ph.D. and see if you can replace each circled word with a word that gives a more powerful image. 

Caution: We’re not trying to make the object, action, or description more intense than what is really happening in the paragraph, i.e. we’re not going for melodrama. 

Let’s look at three examples that show a bland, powerful, and melodramatic paragraph. For your first round, try not to rewrite the paragraph, which might be the best solution. For now, we’re trying to think of more powerful, image-producing words. Of course, you’ll find that one word is more powerful than two or a phrase, so go ahead and replace those with the one word.

image by Harold_Landsrath


The oncoming train’s horn tooted. A couple of children sitting on the train deck picked up their toys, put them in small bags, and hurried after the moving train. An old man worked hard to stand from his chair and followed them. Many other happy people ran around the old man, brushing against him. When the train stopped, people hollered as military men came off the train.


The approaching locomotive’s whistle blasted. Two boys kneeling on the station platform gathered their marbles, stuffed their aggies and shooters into string-tied pokes, and raced toward the chugging train. A time-worn senior struggled to rise from the station bench and trailed the boys. A joyous throng streamed past the octogenarian, jostling against the man. When the engine stopped, the crowd cheered as soldiers spilled from the train. 


The barreling mechanical snake’s siren screamed. Two imps sprawled on the cement slab grabbed their dice, crammed them into metal-studded pockets, and hurdled toward the train. An ancient geezer cracked his back as he removed his haunches from the metal seat and pursued the scallywags. Other ecstatic people galloped past the senile codger, knocking him flat. When the coach stopped, the mob shrieked as combatants stormed off the train. 

Although the melodramatic version uses power words. It fails to retain the spirit of the original, although bland, paragraph. 

What words would you have used for the power version?

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

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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.

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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.

Your Words Can Possess Power – It’s Your Choice

“Mark Twain said, ‘The right word is to the nearly right word as lightning is to the lightning bug.’ Fill your book with lightning.” — Robert Littell


It’s our choice to choose the word that gives our sentence the most power in creating a robust image in the reader’s mind. Often, power words don’t naturally pop into our heads.

What? Take the time to think about all 80,000 words in our manuscripts? Good news. You need to deliberate only the verbs, adjectives, and nouns.

From Wimpy to Forceful


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Eric gave Elle the paper. I picture Eric extending the paper to Elle and her taking it. And maybe this is enough, if you’re simply getting the paper into Elle’s hand. You intend to call little attention to the action. You want your readers to focus on more important actions or items in your paragraph.

But even in the no-special-attention instance “gave” can be improved. And “paper” can be more specific. How about: Eric handed Elle the letter.

But look at the sentence in the following contexts. You might go through this process armed with a thesaurus/dictionary.

1.  Anger. Elle has presented Eric with divorce papers. Eric is incensed.


Paper⇒pages⇒document⇒divorce papers⇒divorce contract⇒life death sentence

Eric flung the divorce papers at Elle.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2.  Joy. Eric presents his first book contract to Elle.


Paper⇒document⇒contract⇒book contract

As Eric strode toward Elle, he flapped the book contract. She whisked it from his grasp, examined it, and then danced him around the dining table.

3.  Awe. Eric has discovered a Biblical document in a cave.


Paper⇒document⇒fragment⇒scroll fragment

Eric rested the ancient scroll fragment on Elle’s upturned palms.

Image courtesy of aopsan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of aopsan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recommend you equip your writing desk with a copy of Flip Dictionary: For when you know what you want to say but can’t think of the word.

Have on⇒put on⇒grace⇒supply⇒equip

Words can stimulate vivid images in your readers’ minds. So choose good ones. Click to tweet.

In the context of jealousy, how would you power-up the example sentence?