Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pay Attention To Verbs

I am reminded every time I read a submission from someone in my critique group about the importance of using active verbs. Those whose work is saturated with active verbs bring a story to life.

The reader sees the action, the prose becomes visual and the story captures interest. In reverse, those stories that are filled with passive verbs like was, is, are, become just kind of lay there with no zip at all. We are told what is happening but we can't visualize it like we can when verbs such as jumped, vaulted, somersaulted are used.

Long ago, the moderator of the crit group I belonged to scolded regularly about using verbs that end in ing. "They're weak," she'd say. Go through your manuscript and change every one of the verbs that end in ing. You'll have a stronger story in the end.

We also rely on what are considered weak verbs that aren't in the was, is, are category. If you say, Zoe walked to the store. we have no idea as to her mood or anything else. walked is a perfectly good verb but it isn't a strong one. If you said, Zoe hurried to the store. that tells us a lot more. We know she wasn't just putting one foot in front of the other which is what walked indicates.

Take a verb like run. It seems perfectly good, doesn't it? It shows us that someone is moving at a fast speed. Now, list as many words as you can that could be substituted for this weak verb. A few to get you started are raced, sped, flew. Those verbs are much more lively than run, aren't they?

When you think you have a story all finished, take a few minutes and look at your verbs. How many are passive and how many are active? Strive for far more active verbs and you'll end up with a much better story.

A verb is just a word but it can make a big difference in your story. 

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