Powerful words

This is an exercise taken from my Beginning Writer’s Workshop class taught by Ann Linquist, my very first writing class.

I remember I had fun with this, writing extra versions for each sentence.


Choosing Powerful Words

You’ll find four weak sentences below. After each one, I’ve described what makes them poor. Using what you learned in Lesson 7, rewrite these sentences to make them powerful, vivid, and unique. You can do that by trying the following:

  • Improve the verbs and make the nouns more specific.
  • Show a character in action rather than naming feelings or telling us what we should think.
  • Be specific with your details.
  • Work on developing a clear mental picture of the scene and then copy what you see in your mind onto the page.

I hope you will go beyond merely rearranging or editing the words given. Give yourself full permission to add details, characters, action—anything that will make the sentence vivid.

Try to rewrite each of the four in ONE sentence rather than concocting a whole paragraph. Part of the challenge here is to pack power into each sentence.

Rewrite these sentences:

  1. There were so many winding curves as I drove in the blazingly bright orange sunlit glare of the everlasting road that I was utterly exhausted by the endless ordeal and thought I might faint if given half the chance. (What’s wrong: Overdone adjectives and adverbs. Cliches. Sentence goes on too long.)

Driving into the sun on this never-ending road with its endless curves was bound to kill me.

I needed to pull over and sleep, too many curves, too much sun, too much road needed to travel.

The sun’s glare just added to the headache caused by driving this endless winding road.

His eyes ached from the sun’s glare, adding to the headache caused by endlessly driving this winding road.

He drove, he turned, he drove, he squinted into the glare, he drove, he turned, he passed out and drove off the cliff.

  1. The leaves were red. (What’s wrong: Too general. Hard to picture this. Very blah.)

Autumn is beautiful at home here in Washington; one tree had leaves that were all red, while the slow learners followed with jumbles of oranges and yellows.

The trees had shed their leaves and the body had shed its blood; the leaves were red.

Fall is a time of change, a purgatory of sorts; the leaves transformed from the green of life to the red of death, before floating down to their final reward, and rebirth.

The leaves were red, the sky was blue, I shook with dread, I had no clue.


  1. That horrible tornado was like a raging bull charging a red cape so it could blast everything we owned to smithereens once and for all. (What’s wrong: Silly and mixed metaphor. Vague adjective. Cliches.)

Whirling away, the tornado skipped across the countryside, searching for its favorite dessert, trailer parks.

Like a Bass-o-matic, the tornado shattered what was whole and left the jumbled remains.

Afterwards this tornado was always called the Devils Claw, it destroyed what it touched.

It spun, it ate, it danced, it spit; it was a tornado.

  1. John thought again how Martha was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and he knew he would love her forever. (What’s wrong: Powerful thought but weak delivery. Telling instead of showing. Dull verbs. No picture evoked.)

Like always, when John watched her sleeping, he ached at her beauty, her sweetness, her innocence, and he cherished the thought of eternity with her.

Did she know how beautiful she was, how he worshiped the ground she walked on, how he treasured her every move, how he had been stalking her for months?

Her beauty still stunned him; he could lose himself in just watching her face, her lips parting, her nose with its little twitch and the smile in her eyes that made his spine tingle.

John knew how lucky he was to have a hot babe like Martha, he didn’t mind that she referred to him as her drooling little puppy dog.



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