By strong I mean causing intense feelings in the reader. I thought about this while I was editing my novel (I consider the second cases to be stronger words):

I turned to the left

I twisted to the left.

We remained silent for a moment.

We fell silent for a moment.

He continued with his story.

He carried on with his story.

I kept walking along until, without mishaps and misadventures, I reached the cliff.

I kept treading along until, without mishaps and misadventures, I reached the cliff.

(I know, their meaning differ a little, but let's not focus on that for now.)

If this is true, what characterize the "strong" words and the "weak" words?

6 Answers 6


There are stronger and weaker words, but using weaker words isn't always bad.

Using strong words all the time would be as bad as using weaker words all the time, as it wouldn't distinguish when something is less severe.

In addition, contrasting strong/weak words shows what the reader should focus on more.

Consider the two sentences:

John stared at the body on the ground, his body numb of all feeling.

John watched the body laying on the ground, not feeling anything.

Those sentences both mean the exact same thing, John was looking at a body, and he didn't have any feelings.

However, the first sentence would make the reader think that John is pretty horrified by the body, and he doesn't know how to react, whereas the second sentence would make the reader more inclined to believe that John is simply remorseless.

The first sentence shows John having a visceral reaction, his body has gone numb because of what he has found. You can imagine the following sentence is that he goes round the corner and vomits in disgust. Try putting that idea after the second sentence, and it doesn't work.

Obviously I'm reading a lot into these short sentences, but without context you can read each one differently. If you expanded on them more, neither one would be wrong, but in order to make the reader understand what you're trying to say, subtle differences in the language can say a lot.

That's one of the things that I love about writing. Lots of things can be said with very little.

Edit: I just realized I never actually answered the question properly, so let me bring it back to that.

You say that strong words elicit strong feelings in the reader. Whilst generally true, I would say they portray strong feelings in the character. As the story unfolds from the point of view of the character, the reader generally has stronger reactions through the character having stronger reactions.

In my examples, the first would focus on the character having a strong reaction to the body, using stronger words to describe the scenario (numb I would say is a strong word, as it implies an entire lack of feeling, as opposed to John feeling something/anything. Stare is also more intense than watch).

The second would focus on the character having a weak reaction to the body. With some expanding, this could cause the reader to have a strong reaction, for example if the reader discovers at this point that the character they are reading about is remorseless about death, and leads to the conclusion that John is a psychopath.

Descriptions using weaker words can cause stronger reactions in the reader. It is all about the reader understanding how the character sees things. So stronger descriptions do not necessarily always mean better descriptions, accurate descriptions are the better descriptions.


Yes, there are stronger words and while when writing (especially fiction) it is perfectly acceptable to use less strong words but it's better to avoid them if you can. As you say, you're trying to invoke your readers senses.


  • I landed on the floor with a bump
  • I thumped onto the floor

Using stronger words can also allow you say the same but using less words.


  • I walked along the floor on my tiptoes
  • I crept along the floor

Remember when you're writing that your reader has 5 senses and different words can produce different feelings in your readers. Go strong whenever you can.


Words have connotations. Using these overtones and implied meanings to create the effect you want makes them strong words. For example, compare these two versions of essentially the same thing:

The man killed the boy.

The monster slaughtered the innocent child.

The second version is more emotive, and some words do stir the emotions more, but there may be occasions when you don't want that and instead you want bland simplicity.


In general, the "stronger" words in your examples are more specific. Twisting is a kind of turning. Treading is a kind of walking.

What makes them "stronger" is that they give you more control of what the reader experiences. If you say, "turn," the reader can conjure many, many images of someone turning. If you say "twist," that eliminates all kinds of possibilities, and the reader conjures an image that is (likely) closer to the one you have in mind.

I'm not saying that more specific words are always better. But in your examples, the key difference that makes the second examples stronger is that they are more specific.


Of course. As Tave says, some words have stronger emotional connotations, or convey the idea of more extreme action.

George was exhausted after toiling for untold hours.

George was tired after working for a long time.

John was overcome with passion for Sarah, whose beauty filled his dreams.

John liked Sarah and thought she was pretty.

One could have endless fun playing this game.

If your writing consists entirely of milder phrasing, it is likely to be boring.

But if your writing consists entirely of stronger phrasing, it will be tiring and lose its effectiveness.

What you want is to mild phrasing for the conventional material and stronger, more colorful phrasing for the high points of the story. Create a contrast. I think it was G. S. Gilbert who said that if everyone was a king or an archbishop, then those titles would mean nothing, and you would find kings and archbishops sweeping floors and waiting tables.

I remember when I was in elementary school and a teacher told me not to end EVERY sentence with an exclamation point. Save it for a few select sentences that really call for it.

  • 1
    I wouldn't consider dramatizing sentences "endless fun"
    – Towell
    May 15, 2015 at 0:15
  • @XosMel You want to be a writer and you don't think playing with words is fun?!
    – Jay
    May 15, 2015 at 13:51

All the answers are very detailed and helpful. With that said, I think you're also asking about the general difference between active and passive writing. If that's the case, here's a blog post that you might find useful. http://sirragirl.blogspot.com/2011/12/passive-voice-in-creative-writing.html?m=0

  • 1
    You failed to disclose your that it is your website, so it looks spamish.
    – hildred
    May 15, 2015 at 22:57
  • 2
    Welcome to Writers, and thanks for the helpful link. As @hildred has pointed out, it's fine to link to your own work as long as you disclose that it's a link to your site. But on top of that, answers that are mostly just a link elsewhere aren't really good answers; would you consider summarizing the link, or quoting the relevant sections? May 15, 2015 at 23:39
  • There is nothing passive about any of Alexandro's examples. And some of the examples of "passive voice" in your blog post are active voice. May 16, 2015 at 8:30

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