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The Expanded Power Revision Checklist

Posted by DE Navarro


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The Expanded 




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©2001-2021 NavWorks Press and DE Navarro.  All worldwide rights reserved. NavWorks Press and DE Navarro, Tucson, Arizona, navworks@yahoo.com .

Add punch and power to your writing to make good writing into great writing.

The Expanded Power Revision Checklist

1.  Show, don’t tell.  Or as I like to say, “Show more, tell less.”

Write in vivid imagery. Allow the reader to “see and experience the action” for themselves rather than to tell them about it. 

Showing expresses action, while telling explains. The majority of your story should be showing with only as much explanation or telling as is needed to keep the action sensible and moving. The most skillful writers blend showing and telling in a way that keeps the whole story moving.             


Mary stood at the door of Caleb’s apartment. She was a timid young woman who looked like a mouse, short, skinny, small, dark eyes and a pointed face. She always peeked in at parties first, giving herself a chance to flee if she saw no one she knew. When Caleb looked at her, she entered the apartment, gave him a polite smile, and headed for the punch bowl to get a drink that she could hide behind while she mixed in.


Mary brooded at the door of Caleb’s apartment, chin lifted, tiny feet balanced on their toes. She peered in at the party through the crack, sniffing things out with her pointed face. Her small, black eyes darted back and forth. She always gave herself a chance to scurry away if she saw no one she knew. Caleb met her gaze. She lunged through the door, her lips curled up in a tight grin, and darted for the cover of the punch bowl. A drink always helped her mix in.


Mary brooded like a mouse on tiptoe at the door of Caleb’s apartment, peering in at the party with her pointed face. Her small, black eyes darted back and forth. She always gave herself a chance to scurry away if she saw no one she knew. Caleb met her gaze. She grinned and darted for the cover of the punch bowl. A drink always helped her mix in. 

The combination took the fewest words and still gave us imagery, and conveyed a sense of action. Most writers tell too often. That’s why I like to say, “Show more, tell less.” But don’t make the error of swinging to the opposite extreme so that you show too often. A good blend and combination works the best. 

You can use telling for your transitions. Telling is a good transitional tool because it is direct, while showing is indirect. If the example above was merely to transition the reader into new action, then it might go like this:

Telling Transition:

Mary, timid as she was, peeked like a mouse into Caleb’s apartment. She avoided parties where she knew no one. When she met Caleb’s gaze, she joined the party, hiding behind a drink, and began to mix in.

By nature of the genre and style of writing, non-fiction will involve more telling, description and explanation than fiction but it should still be rich with showing. Non-fiction writers obviously need to teach and explain more about their topics.

In fiction writing, avoid excessive description and excessive explanation. 

There is no greater action stopper than a chunk of description or explanation right in the middle of the action. Instead, use a technique called the telling detail. 

Telling details are revealing, vivid images given in a few words amidst other action that tell by what they show. They eliminate the need to rely on description or explanation. Let the reader gradually learn about the characters, their settings, and their problems in a natural way.  Use all the senses in your telling details. Let’s look at some examples of this and compare them.

Straight Description:

Mike entered the room. He was a foot taller than Sherri with brown hair and penetrating blue eyes. A hard factory worker, he had rough hands, and was well muscled behind his flannel shirt. He smelled of smoke, like the factory, as he stood motionless staring at her. She looked into his eyes and took his hands in hers. She wasn’t sure how to tell him, but the news had to be broken.

Let’s look at the same information given by showing, imagery and telling details amidst the action.

Showing With Telling Details:

Mike entered the room, swept his brown hair aside, and stood motionless, eyes fixed on Sherri. Feeling small next to his broad, muscular frame, she took his rough workmen’s hands into hers and looked up into his penetrating blue eyes. The smell of factory smoke still lingered in his flannel shirt. She had to break the news, but how?

Look at how much better and more engaging that is than the straight description.

When description is needed, it must be integral to the story, and it must be short and pertinent. 

Beginning writers often try to write like the great writers of the past instead of the great writers of the present. Readers don’t want description, they want action.  Show more, tell less.

2.  Write with precise nouns and verbs.

Writing with precise nouns and verbs helps to eliminate the need for an overabundance of modifiers. Again, we avoid description and use more imagery and telling details. As we get used to this technique, it becomes as easy to eliminate needless modifiers as it was to use them before. While working on this, pay special attention to the following.

Eliminate countless “-ly” words and other adverbs by using specific power verbs.  When your character slams the door, there is no need to add, “loudly.” Doors don’t slam softly. The “slam” is the power action. Don’t weaken it.

Eliminate excessive adjectives that add nothing to the noun.  For instance, let's consider the phrase, “a hard, clear, sparkling diamond.”  A normal diamond is hard, clear, and sparkling.  So, just saying “diamond” is enough.  However, if a diamond is black, dull or worthless, then by all means use those adjectives to modify the concept of the typical diamond. We do not need to tell people that a diamond is hard, clear and sparkling. They already know.

Imagery uses strong, specific nouns and active verbs. Look for the contrast in the pairs below. The description relies on adjectives and adverbs, and explains too much.  

Imagery uses power nouns and verbs, and shows more. Compare the following pairs:

They walked slowly out into the hot, wet night. [Description (D)]         

They wandered into the sopping night. [Imagery (I)]

Sue aggressively gathered oysters into her bucket from the exposed sea bed at low tide. [D]

Sue attacked the oysters at low tide, plunking them into her bucket. [I]

John walked across the customer waiting area with purpose. [D]

John strode across the lobby. [I]

He quickly turned his slack, reddened face into the white-hot, noon-day sun. [D]

He jerked his flushed face into the white-hot sun. [I]


So again, instead of using endless modifiers to describe, use strong, specific nouns and active verbs to give the reader vivid images. Vivid images interspersed throughout a story or narrative are far more effective than description. Use imagery for all your telling details.

Get inventive with color, instead of deep blue how about cerulean, instead of sky blue how about azure, instead of reddish-brown, how about russet. Our language is rich with specific, descriptive words. Use them.

Examples incorporating the techniques of points 1 and 2 together:

Mrs. Baker went into Martin’s classroom. It was silent and dark in the moon glow. She could barely see the rat cage.  [This leans toward telling and does not use strong images.]

Mrs. Baker sneaked into Martin’s darkened classroom, silent in the moon glow. She spied the rat cage.   [Stronger verbs, sneaked/spied, more imagery, we get the sense she shouldn’t be there; but still a bit flat.]

Mrs. Baker sneaked down the hall and lurched into Martin’s darkened classroom, breathless. She caught a fleeting glimpse of the rat cage in the moon glow. [Strong verbs, images, we picked up the pace and the suspense.]

Mrs. Baker sneaked down the hall and lurched into Martin’s darkened classroom, her breath stalled in her throat. A slender thread of moonlight defined the wire rungs of the rat cage.  [Now we have a good pace, both the idea that she shouldn’t be there and suspense. The imagery is more vivid because we see what she sees.]

Non-Fiction Example:     
Avoid endless -ly words. Usually called adverbs, these words rarely carry a story line authoritatively. The amateur author severely taxes his brain, striving earnestly to write professionally, only to find himself crying softly to himself, “One rejection after another.” Avoid the -ly construction by finding a precise verb that expresses your meaning. Instead of “crying softly to himself,” try “whimpering.” This will strengthen your writing and precisely focus your intended meaning.

The paragraph above is the example of what needs to be fixed in this non-fiction explanation. Here are the fixes word by word.

FIXES:         Eliminate                                      Replace with

                       usually                                         [nothing]
                       rarely                                           do not
                       authoritatively                             with authority
                       severely taxes                              presses or drives
                       earnestly                                      [nothing]
                       crying softly to himself               whimpering
                       precisely focus                             pinpoint

                       Leave professionally alone, it is necessary.

Now let’s see the difference in the revision below. Compare it to the first sample. The increased clarity and power should be evident.

Non-Fiction Example (Fixed):

Avoid endless -ly words. Called adverbs, these words do not carry a story line with authority. The amateur author presses his brain, striving to write professionally, only to find himself whimpering, “One rejection after another.” Avoid the -ly construction by finding a precise verb that expresses your meaning. Instead of “crying softly to himself,” try “whimpering.” This will strengthen your writing and pinpoint your intended meaning. 

3.  Avoid the passive voice. Write in the active voice. 

Be direct, aggressive, positive, and clear. Use the passive voice only when necessary to convey a particular mood or attitude. If you are writing in the active voice throughout your work, the passive voice will stand out and impact your reader as intended when used.

Passive:    The ball was thrown by Ralph.
Active:     Ralph threw the ball.

Passive:    He was irritated by the constant ticking of the clock.
Active:     The constant ticking of the clock irritated him.

Notice that we eliminated the verb of being (am, is, are, was, were). Limiting use of this verb adds punch to the action. Instead of a “state of being” there is movement, action.

Passive writing kills the story, kills the action and pretty much kills the reader.  As an exercise to get good at this skill, after you write a few paragraphs go back and read them to see if you stayed active and aggressive throughout. If not, push yourself to correct the passive constructions and make them active. After practicing this a few times you will start developing the habit of recognizing passive writing as you go and eliminating it right then and there so you won’t have to later.

Look at this example of passive voice writing, and then after we eliminate the passive constructions and add some specific nouns and verbs, we’ll see how much more powerful and aggressive the active voice is. 

Passive Voice Writing:

Two years ago a tornado struck and me and my family experienced it for the first time ever. It was part of that big superstorm that the south had where many communities were hit by tornadoes. Much damage and suffering were caused by the tornado which was a half mile wide and had winds up to 270 miles per hour. The shed in our back yard was picked up and blown around. It ended up landing on the roof of our home and the significant damage it caused destroyed much of the upper floor of our house. Because of the hole in our roof, some debris was blown down the stairs, and glass decorations in our living room were broken. We thought that was all the damage that was done until the tornado had passed and we were able to look outside to see that our car was gone. It was later found by my dad, down the street and smashed in a neighbor’s yard.

Active Voice Writing:

My family and I experienced our first tornado two years ago. It struck as part of a superstorm throughout the south that spawned over one hundred tornadoes and destroyed numerous communities. The half-mile wide tornado raced through town with winds up to 270 miles per hour wrecking and ruining everything in its path. It picked up our back yard shed and threw it into the roof of our home damaging the upper floor. The shed ripped a hole in our roof that allowed the tornado to blow debris down the stairs breaking glass decorations in our living room. But that wasn’t all the damage. After it ended we looked outside to discover the car was gone. Dad later found our mangled car in a neighbor’s yard down the street.

4.  Limit the use of uncommon words— inexorable, obfuscate, expunge, etc., which tend to be showy. Instead use simple, common, direct language. Notice this point does not say “never use.” Use discretion.

When reading, there’s nothing quite as upsetting as cruising along in the midst of some intense action or exciting information only to come to a screeching halt over a word we are not sure we understand. We may pause to ponder the word or even stop to look it up in the dictionary. But the flow of the text has been broken and cannot be restored. The pace has been destroyed. When we interrupt the reader in this way, we interrupt the flow of our own story or non-fiction narrative. It's okay to use occasional uncommon words, just don't make it a continual habit.

5.  Avoid weak (indefinite) words— almost, about, appears, approximately, probably, nearly, virtually, seems, etc.  Avoid all  “-ish” words— greenish, palish, roughish, etc. Be precise. Your reader wants clear, definite, precise images, not nebulous, vague abstractions. 

Imprecise:  He almost exploded with anger. 

Precise:  He seethed. 

Imprecise:  The constant ticking almost made him angry. He was virtually ready to throw the ball at the clock to shut the dumb thing up.  [We’re left to wonder, what is almost angry? Is it annoyed, irritated, irked, riled, irate, upset?]

Precise:  The constant ticking annoyed him. He squeezed the ball. Should he hurl it at the clock? That would shut the dumb thing up.

We have a plethora of synonyms in English, each with its own nuance of meaning. Our writing becomes stronger when we use the most precise word for the situation.

6.  Avoid office or business language—  “At this point in time.” “At this juncture.” “Upon notice of this situation.”  Replace with simple direct language such as now, when, then, etc.

7.  Avoid common clichés— white as snow, quiet as a mouse, sweat like a dog, slept like a baby.  Characters can speak this way if that is part of their persona. Also, the use of clichés for artistic reasons such as allusions or comparisons can work if not overdone. Be thoughtful. Is it really what you need?

8.  Avoid endless synonyms for said. 

Effective writers know said is invisible and they craft the dialogue itself to express the emotions. This point (number 8) upsets a lot of new writers. You may not get this at first. But listen to this logic and think it through and try it out and soon you will see and have to admit to yourself that it does improve your writing.

If you have to tell us that Marko said something angrily, then the words in the dialogue and the scene are not working correctly. We should know by the scene and the spoken words themselves that Marko is angry. If the reader has already imagined a different emotion portrayed in the dialogue, then when he gets to "he said angrily" it cuts against the scene, it makes him go back and reread the dialogue with proper intent, and interrupts the flow of the story. The reader doesn’t know ahead what the tag line is going to say. Craft the words and the action to express the emotion.

Instead of:  

Clara shook her head. “You did it to gain favor with her,” she accused.

“That’s a lie,” Marko retorted angrily.


Clara shook her head, pointed a stern finger in Andy’s face and said, “You did it to gain favor with her.”

“No,” Marko said slapping his fist into his hand and pointing back, “That’s a lie.”

Can you see how the second example shows us the actions and emotions instead of telling us about them like the endless synonyms for "said" do. Work this kind of powerful showing into your dialogue knowing that said is an invisible word that lets the reader experience the action and emotions with the characters. Show more, tell less.

9.  Avoid having characters speak “with” a facial gesture. 

We have all done it or read it before, where a character says something with a sneer, scowl, grin, laugh, chuckle, growl, etc.  Logically, we may sneer or grin or chuckle before or after we speak, but not after we  speak. Put the gesture in the proper chronological place.

Avoid:  He looked at his prisoner. “Tie him up,” he sneered.

Instead:  He sneered at his prisoner, “Tie him up.”

10.  Avoid excessive dialect in dialogue. 

Use just enough dialectical hints to get the point across—don’t try to invent a whole new manner of spelling to mimic an accent. Excessive dialectical spelling cuts pace and causes the reader to have to decipher what you have written. This becomes incredibly burdensome. Instead, supply some hints at accent or dialect and throw one or two strong reminders in the course of a discussion. Peppering dialogue with a few dialectical words sets the tone and background for the reader’s imagination and carries the dialogue with proper intent. The reader will supply the accent in their mind and the narrative will not lose its pace and flow.

Burdensome:  She spoke in a thick southern drawl, “Y’all come hare nah, y’hear.”

Conducive:  She spoke in a thick southern drawl, “Y’all come here now, ya hear.”

11.  Avoid entering the story from behind the narrative.

When a writer enters the story from behind the narrative with funny comments or statements like: “If she only knew what was waiting for her at home,” or “little did she know,” or “she was soon to find out.”  These intrusions destroy the credibility of the story as something that is happening on its own. It reminds the reader of the modern world of right here and now and that they are reading something that someone wrote and pulls them out of the story for an instant.

This is not to say that this technique cannot be used for intentional artistic effect. If you know what you are after to foster a certain interaction with the story and it is part of your approach to the entire story, then it is fine. You may be a character in the story that is narrating it and at times we are reminded that this story is being told by you.

Just understand the difference and use discretion and avoid suddenly entering the story if you have not been in it throughout the beginning of the book.

12.  Avoid exclamation points! 

A well placed exclamation point adds emphasis!  Continual use of exclamation points makes them generic!  It renders them void of impact! Get it! Okay!!

The overuse of exclamation points is a crutch for poor writing. If the writing itself does not convey the intended emphasis or excitement, propping it up with an exclamation point doesn’t change the quality of the writing that comes before it.

Consider exclamation points to be a rare adornment that only a few situations deserve. When you absolutely know you need one, add it. But get out of the habit of liberally massaging your writing with exclamation points. You will see how much more powerful an exclamation point becomes when it is rare.

13.  Avoid three dots in a row ( . . . ) for interruptions in dialogue.

To indicate a stop or interruption in dialogue, use the dash ( — ) instead. Three dots in a row should be used for an ellipsis (missing or unspoken words), or for when dialogue trails off into unspoken words that are meant.

Do this:  

He shook his head, “That’s not what I meant, I mere— ”

“Don’t try to change what you said now,” she wagged her finger in his face, “just own up to it.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I— , I— ,” he dropped his eyes, “never mind.”

Not this: 

He shook his head, “That’s not what I meant, I mere...”

“Don’t try to change what you said now,” she wagged her finger in his face, “just own up to it.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I… I…,” he dropped his eyes, “never mind.”

See the difference. An emdash ( — ) interrupts, whereas an ellipsis ( . . . ) replaces unspoken words.

14.  Keep sentences and paragraphs short. 

This adds “whitespace” and makes for easier and more direct reading.

We don’t do this because we think readers are dumb. We do this because long, drawn out explanations and descriptions can drag the action in the story or non-fiction narrative down and drown it in endless prose.

Readers aren’t there to admire your witty and fluid prose; they want the story, the action, or the information. They are impressed when the writing is conducive to their imagination and it keeps moving.

All your writing can become so powerful, so precise and so engaging that it draws the reader into a page-turner. Striving for this kind of seamless writing will enhance all your stories or non-fiction works.

The truly great writer is invisible and leaves their reader in awe of what they wrote, not how they wrote it. ◊◊◊ 

Visit http://de-navarro.com for more information about what we do at NavWorks Press. Also, please consider forwarding this to a friend and inviting them to check out what we do so they can subscribe too. 

Thank you and Write On.

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Reply by Dead Weight


As a non-native english speaker, I find this quite useful, since many of these items work the other way around in my native language.
Thank you.

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