Sunday, March 5, 2017

To Verb?

Not “verbalize,” but “verbify,” as only verbs can. Because they resuscitate, activate, renovate. Verbs definitely make love, definitely make great prose. As Constance Hale put it :
A sentence can offer a moment of quiet, it can crackle with energy or it can just lie there, listless and uninteresting. What makes the difference? The verb. 
Since verbs soar, burrow, compress, and energize, why would so many writers waste them? Lots of reasons, but mainly bad habits and worse word choices. Since verbs drive fiction’s engine, “So many problems are solved simply by knowing enough verbs.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

Knowing them is almost enough. You must also choose which and when.

~ Verbs can electrify or lull.

Pedestrian verbs entice no better than the adjectives and adverbs generally employed to vivify those verbs. “Marshall turned,” “Penelope went,” “Byron responded,” “Andromeda moved,” “The quintuplets waited.” Yawn. 

However literary a story, action still pumps its heart. Harness verbs that tease, propel, and capture. Annie Dillard  believes that “Adverbs are a sign that you’ve used the wrong verb,” as in “She walked mincingly” (instead of “minced”); “He moved slowly” (instead of “trudged” or “sauntered”), or “They advanced stealthily” (instead of “tiptoed” or “crept”).

~ Verbs can act or just be.

As William Safire said, “If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.” William Safire  raises the stakes higher:
Root out all the “to be” verbs in your prose and bludgeon them until dead. No “It was” or “they are” or “I am.” Don’t let it be, make it happen. 
Characters must act and react rather merely “being scared” or “having doubts.” The best inciting incidents and climaxes still lag when the language conveying them describes rather than performs, analyzes rather than dramatizes.The writer’s task? Don’t block the reader’s view of the character, which, by definition, modifiers do.

~ Verbs can punctuate or falter.

Many writers learned (in contrast with “were taught”) to relish the grammatical accuracy of “I had been sobbing” in contrast with the current flood of tears. However correct, this distances the characters—and the scene they inhabit.  “I was sobbing,” produces the same effect, not to mention “I feared I would have been sobbing if my daughter had not been waiting downstairs for me.” Don’t emasculate what happens. 

~ Verbs can symbolize or confuse.

Verbs make miracles—highlighting themes, exposing subterfuge, feigning innocence, swelling tension. Often a barely visible metaphor cements this. If you strike an argumentative blow, it won’t override your adversary’s stamina. If mom illuminates an idea, her son can’t blot it out. If you dissolve a problem, its tentacles can’t rear up to haunt you. 

Tip: Select great verbs. Follow them to their logical conclusion. Then get out of their way.

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