These are verb qualifiers:
- Sort of
- Tend to
- Kind of
- Must have
- Seemed to
- Could have
- Used to
- Begin to
They allow you to present a level of uncertainty for your character’s actions. Use them with caution, because verb qualifiers may only add little information and cause confusion.
When I’m writing action sequences, I simply ask myself: Did the characters do the action or did they not?
Take a look at this modified paragraph from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (Amazon):
Chipper sort of fell silent. His eyes kind of went around and around his plate, but he must have not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He began to raise his glass and silently half urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out and seemed to welcome it.
Notice how there is a lot of uncertainty in that paragraph? These little sprinklings of doubt spoil your credibility as the author and mess up the flow of your story. Take a look at the original version without any of the added verb qualifiers.
Chipper fell silent. His eyes went around and around his plate, but he had not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He raised his glass and silently urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out to welcome it.
Your first draft is often loaded with these verb qualifiers. This is understandable. You aren’t certain of every detail when you write the first draft. But now that you know how it all ends, be more confident and remove those pesky verb qualifiers and give a more assured image of the story. By removing them, you’ll see how much more clear and precise your writing becomes.
Writing with confidence doesn’t mean your content needs to be bold or dramatic, it can be done by merely trimming off the excess that fog up the details. Don’t let your important words be overshadowed by verb qualifiers. Keep an eye out for them and cut them out.
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