Verbs are the engine words of our prose. They show the action, but like all words, they have shades of mood, nuances that color the tone of my paragraphs. Verbs can either push the action outward from their partner nouns or pull it in.
When I write poetry, I look for words that contrast vividly against each other. I choose action words that begin with hard consonants, emotion words that begin with softer sounds.
If I can do this for poetry, I should be able to do this for narrative prose – but alas. For some reason, my poetic brain goes on vacation when I am trying to write a first draft. My work is filled with a bald telling of events.
But that’s okay. All I need at that point is to get the story written down.
But during revisions, when writing really becomes work, and I’m trying to turn that boring mess into something worth reading – that is when I need to use my words. Finding strong verbs and employing contrasts in my word choices becomes essential when embarking on the second draft.
I know that power verbs push action outward from a character. Other word choices pull the action inward, and contrasting the two creates a feeling of opposition and friction. This contrast of opposites injects dynamism into a passage, a sense of vitality, vigor, and energy.
Readers are attracted to dynamic prose.
Note to self: write dynamic prose.
Verbs that push the action outward from a character make them appear authoritative, competent, energetic, and decisive.
Verbs that pull the action in toward the character make them appear receptive, attentive, private, and flexible.
I want to make my characters well-rounded but not quite perfect. I hope they are relatable and human. The way I show their world and their place in it must convey who they are.
Concise writing is difficult for me because I love descriptors. So, I have to make my action words set the mood. To do that, I must use contrasts.
A part of my life was burned away. I was destroyed, but now I was reborn in ways I’d never foreseen.
My action words are burn, destroy, and birth. This character’s entire arc is encapsulated in those three words. The contrasting words I choose throughout their story will make or break that novel.
Can I do it? I don’t know, but I’ll have fun trying. In the beginning, this character’s verbs will be darker, their actions more inward and brooding.
At the end of the story, events and interactions will alter them despite their desire to remain safely static. They will experience a renaissance, a flowering of the spirit.
But verbs and nouns by themselves don’t make engaging prose. They need modifiers and connectors.
I will have to select modifiers and connecting verbs to enhance contrasts. Since I can’t go wild with them, the few I choose must be power words.
Many power words begin with hard consonants. The images they convey project a feeling of power:
When things get tricky and the characters are working their way through a problem, verbs like stumble and blunder offer a sense of chaos and don’t require a lot of modifiers to show the atmosphere. When you incorporate any of the above “B” words into your prose, you are posting a road sign for the reader, a notice that ahead lies danger.
Here are some words to create an atmosphere of anxiety – words that push the action outward:
- Agony (noun)
- Apocalypse (noun)
- Armageddon (noun)
- Assault (verb)
- Backlash (noun)
- Pale (modifier)
- Panic (verb or noun)
- Target (verb)
- Teeter (verb)
- Terrorize (verb)
Here are some words that draw us in:
- Delirious (intransitive verb)
- Depraved (modifier)
- Desire (verb)
- Dirty (modifier)
- Divine (modifier)
- Ecstatic (intransitive verb)
- Embrace (verb)
- Enchant (verb)
- Engage (verb)
- Entice (verb)
- Enthrall (verb)
Writing is an adventure, and I learn something new every day. Some days I like what I write; other days, not so much.
The drive to understand why some books enthrall me and others leave me cold keeps me reading and looking for new stories.
Life can be a bumpy road.
The key is to focus on the good things and laugh at the inconveniences. Make a little time to do something creative, and always make time for the people you love.