A-well a Verb, Verb, V-Verb’s the Word

In Random Posts, Uncategorized, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique on February 14, 2010 at 4:10 am

Sing that to the tune The Surfin’ Bird by The Trashman.

That was fun, wasn’t it?  Now, back to business.

Just a quick review.  In my last post, I’ll Tell You Mine If You Tell Me Yours, I explained how I was introduced to a phrase repeated to every novice writer, Show Not Tell.  It refers to a writing technique used to transport readers into a story through the use of character actions, dialogue, feelings and senses instead of narrating, or telling, readers what’s happening in the story.

I was confused at first.  Why couldn’t I just tell a story?  After all, isn’t that why it’s called story-telling?  Then I saw an example of the technique and began to understand how to use it.

If I wrote ‘Clare liked Billy’s laugh.  It made her feel happy.’ then I’m telling readers what Clare liked.  But to show Clare liked Billy’s laugh I could write:

‘Billy leaned closer, pressing against her arm as if to keep from falling, while he laughed outright.  Clare smiled and closed her eyes, her insides bubbling like the soft foam that rises to the top of a root-beer float.’

I know, not the best example but I’m learning as I go.

Although it takes more words to Show, when used correctly it’s an effective way for readers to experience the story’s emotion and action through their own reactions.  They get to figure it out by seeing the smiles and feeling emotion as it builds.  A very different experience than when an author tells them what to think.

But you know that already if you read my last post.  You also know my sample of Show in my previous post did not go well.  Yes, it showed everything but my choice of words slowed the story to a crawl.  I described things with so many adjectives and adverbs that I buried the story somewhere underneath them.

I sought out a solution on writing sites and found that word Show again.  This time relating to verbs.  You remember those things from school, the word in a sentence that makes a statement or tells what happened.  Billy laughed.  Clare smiled.  The bell rings.  They are late.

In a simple sentence, the ‘who’ or ‘what’ in front of the verb is the subject.  Oh yeah, that.  I knew you’d remember.

So how does this trip to grade school grammar help me now?  By knowing I need to go back to basics and search for the verbs in my sentences.  I’m looking for the weak ones, tame and colorless, that can be replaced with stronger verbs, more direct and concise.  Verbs that Show (there’s that word again) something happening.

‘Clare walked quickly in the direction of the school.’

The verb in this sentence, walked, requires an adverb, quickly, to describe Clare’s haste.  Is there a stronger, more concise way to say the same thing?

‘Clare hurried in the direction of the school.’

Or, ‘Clare rushed to school.’

It says the same thing with fewer words and stronger impact.  Why?  Because it Shows readers that Clare’s in a hurry to get to school without flat-out telling readers Clare’s in a hurry to get to school.

As Clare runs off into the distance I’ll sit back with a cup of coffee, watch the 2010 Olympics and enjoy the rest of the day.  Could I use a stronger verb for that?  Maybe.  What about chillin’?  Now that’s a word.  The word is a verb that’s not only strong but goes well with a good cup of coffee.

NEXT TIME: To Be (When Writing) or Not To Be

In my last post I said Activating The Tenses was going to be the next post.  We’ll have to chill on that a while longer.  It’s coming, I promise.  Had to slow down to push a few lazy verbs out of the way.


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