Thursday, September 13, 2012

Verb Verve

Novelists must keep many balls in play—not just character, plot and scenario, but managing pacing, dialogue, setting, point of view and so on. With all that to juggle, it’s no wonder that novelists sometimes forget the power underlying the words used to make that happen.

For writers, words start with verbs. That’s the reasoning underlying the endless warnings about the “is,” “be,” “am,” “are,” “was,” “were” list, otherwise known as the passive culprit. Such words tempt us because the modifiers that follow them are tantalizingly convenient, abundant, available and seemingly efficient.

They’re not. They clog and clutter. They pull readers out of scene. They drag down and mess up. Writers benefit from abandoning these false friends.

You don’t need a vocabulary class. Just start noticing your verbs—and everyone else’s. The more you notice, the more attuned your ear becomes and the sleeker your words get.

Tip: Scrutinize the words you select. It seems foolishly obvious. But those individual words along with how you string them together are the source of your novel’s world and thus the pleasure that world gives your readers.

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