Tag Archives: verbs

Verbs and the Nouns that Love Them part 2 #amwriting

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.

Verbs there is no tryWhen 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.

opposites work togetherConcise 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.

  • Brood
  • Deny
  • Embrace
  • Escape
  • Consent
  • Refuse
  • Agony
  • Ecstasy

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:

  • Backlash
  • Beating
  • Beware
  • Blinded
  • Blood
  • Bloodbath
  • Bloodcurdling
  • Bloody
  • Blunder

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.

john barrymore memeThe 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.

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Verbs and Character Creation #amwriting

This morning I am writing beneath an overcast sky to the sounds of seabirds and waves. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the moment. Later today, the sun will emerge from the mists, and the air will be full of laughter and excited chatter. Knots of parents, children, and dogs will dot the sandy shore, along with all the paraphernalia that goes along with a visit to the beach.

Words-And-How-We-Use-ThemUnfortunately, although we asked for a ground-floor condo, we were assigned a second-floor unit. My husband is managing the stairs – slowly. On the good side, we have the god’s-eye view of a wide stretch of beach, the perfect deck overlooking it all.

canon definitionWriting is going as well as ever, a little up and down. I’m building the framework for a new story, which I will begin writing on November 1st. The world is already built; it’s an established world with many things that are canon and can’t be changed. So, I’m working my way through the bag of tricks that help me jar things loose.

One thing that helps when creating a character is identifying the verbs embodied by each individual’s personality. I am searching for their motivation, the metaphorical “hole” in their life. What pushes them to do the crazy stuff they do? In several seminars I’ve attended, this aspect of character creation was referred to as their void.

Anyway, I’m thinking. I’m identifying the void that blights the lives of each character. I’m letting my mind off its leash and taking notes.

So let’s pretend we’re plotting a novel, and we’re going to use verbs to do it. It could be any kind of novel, but for the sake of this post, we’ll plot a romance novel.

Jack Kerouak on writing LIRF07252022Protagonist HER: Anna Lundquist, an unemployed game developer. She inherited an old farm and has moved there. She embarks on creating her own business designing anime-based computer games. Anna is shy, not good with men unless discussing books or computer games. VOID: Loss of family. VERBS: Create, Build, Seek, Defend, Fight, Nurture. Modifiers: Adaptable, ambitious, focused, independent, industrious, mature, nurturing, private, resourceful, responsible, simple, thrifty.

Protagonist HIM: Cameron (Cam) Berglund, a handsome and charismatic lawyer. His parents divorced, and he was raised in his mother’s home city. He inherited his father’s failing family law firm when his father committed suicide. VOID: Fears to trust. VERBS: Charm, Fix, Mediate, Heal, Advocate. Modifiers: Analytical, cautious, discreet, ethical, honorable, independent, just, pensive, observant, perceptive, private, proactive.

But if we’re writing romance, there must be a little drama before Anna settles on the right man:

Alternate Almost Protagonist HIM: Nic Jones is a ski bum and the charming owner of a coffee shop where Anna uses the internet for the first week until her cable is hooked up. He is writing a novel. VOID: Parents were killed in a plane crash. VERBS: charm, feed, desire, embrace. Modifiers: Ambitious, charming, courteous, disciplined, empathetic, flirtatious, imaginative, independent, pensive, persistent, private, quirky.

Two of Anna’s verbs are “fight” and “defend.” This forces us to ask ourselves why those verbs apply to her. Enter the antagonist:

antagonistAntagonist HIM: Matt Gentry, owner of MGPopularGames and Anna’s former boss, is angry at Anna for leaving his firm. On a skiing trip with an old fraternity brother who owns an art supply store in Starfall Ridge, he sees her entering Nic’s coffeeshop. Matt discovers that Anna is now living in that town. He learns she has started her own company and is building an anime-based RPG. He goes back to Seattle and files an injunction to stop her, claiming that he owns the rights to her intellectual property. VOID: Narcissist. VERBS: Possess, Control, Desire, Covet, Steal, Lie, Torment.

As we go through the process of sorting out the voids, verbs, and modifiers for these characters, we have some of the bones to form the skeleton of a novel. It’s still incomplete, but it’s a beginning. If we were actually writing this story, we would need to research how narcissists behave to ensure our antagonist fits the classic narcissist description but doesn’t become cartoonish.

In my current work-in-progress, a fantasy novel set in my world of Neveyah, the plot is going in the direction of a murder mystery. I haven’t identified the antagonist yet, but I’m inching closer.

I almost have a grip on my two main characters. I know their voids and main verbs, but their secondary verbs and modifiers are still eluding me. Lenn is a fire-mage, and his main verb is “act” (as in to take action). Dalya is an air-mage/healer whose main verb is “nurture.”

Both mages are members of a sect that hunts rogue mages when necessary and have certain powers that come along with that task. I will have my characters built and my plot fully outlined when NaNoWriMo begins. Ironing out this issue is the perfect excuse to sit and watch the seabirds quarreling with each other.

Next week I will continue thinking about verbs and how they do so much more than set a scene in motion. Some verbs push the action, some pull us in, and some don’t work as intended. All verbs set the mood, portraying the action in the light you, as their creator, envision.

pelicans-seagulls-Cannon-Beach August 20, 2021

Pelicans and seagulls on Cannon Beach in August. © Connie Jasperson 2022

Right now, my personal verb is “observe.”

I know it looks like I’m sitting here doing nothing, just gazing at the wildlife with a silly grin.

But actually, I’m working. See this notepad and pencil? See the wind-sculpted Einstein-esque hairstyle I’m rocking? This is how great minds look when they’re working.


Credits and Attributions:

The image of pelicans and seagulls in the fog on Cannon Beach is from Connie Jasperson’s private collection and is copyrighted.


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How the Written Universe Works: 7 Rules of Construction #amwriting

Words, carefully chosen and arranged with care, have the power to bring your writing to life.

7 rules of constructionWe who write because we love words spend a great deal of time framing what our words say. We choose some words above others because they say what we mean more precisely, or they color our prose with the right emotion.

We take our chosen words and bind them into small packets we call sentences. We take those sentences and build paragraphs, which become novels.

The author’s job is to understand how the grammar of their native language works. The great authors use those rules to energize their prose.

However, when it comes to word choices, some things are universal to the best work in all genres, from literary fiction and poetry to sci-fi and fantasy, to thrillers and cozy mysteries, or even Romance.

The world is in a state of flux—money is tight. In the US, the cost of getting a university education is prohibitive, with students incurring massive debt that follows them for years afterward. Some people have the luxury and the desire to seek a degree in writing.

Others must rely on self-education. To that end, here are seven rules professional writing programs teach about sentence and paragraph construction.

One: Verbs—we choose words with power. In English, words that begin with hard consonants sound tougher and carry more power.

Verbs are power words. Fluff words and obscure words used too freely are kryptonite, sapping the strength from our prose.

Use Active ProseTwo: Placement of verbs in the sentence can strengthen or weaken it.

  • Moving the verbs to the beginning of the sentence makes it stronger.
  • Nouns followed by verbs make active prose.

I ran toward danger, never away.

Three: Parallel construction smooths awkward phrasing. When two or more ideas are compared in one sentence, each clause should use the same grammatical structure. They are parallel, and the reader isn’t jarred by them, absorbing what is said naturally.

What parallelism means can be shown by a quote attributed to Julius Caesar, who used the phrase “I came; I saw; I conquered” in a letter to the Roman Senate after he had achieved a quick victory in the Battle of Zela. Caesar gives equal importance to the different ideas of arriving, seeing, and conquering.

Buddha quoteFour: Contrast—In literature, we use contrast to describe the difference(s) between two or more things in one sentence. The blue sun burned like fire, but the ever-present wind chilled me.

Five: Similes show the resemblances between two things through the use of words such as “like” and “as.” The blue sun burned like fire.

Similes differ from metaphors, which suggest something “is” something else. The pale moon shone, a lamp in the sky that comforted me.

Six: Deliberate repetition used occasionally emphasizes emotion and atmosphere but doesn’t increase wordiness.

  • Repetition of the last word in a line or clause.
  • Repetition of words at the start of clauses or verses.
  • Repetition of words or phrases in the opposite sense.
  • Repetition of words broken by some other words.
  • Repetition of the same words at the end and start of a sentence.
  • Repetition of a phrase or question to stress a point.
  • Repetition of the same word at the end of each clause.
  • Repetition of an idea, first in negative terms and then in positive terms.
  • Repetition of words of the same root with different endings.
  • Repetition at both the end and beginning of a sentence, paragraph, or scene.
  • Repetition is a construction in poetry where the last word of one clause becomes the first word of the next clause.

Every book is a quotation, and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Prose and Poetry. [1]

alliterationSeven: Alliteration is the occurrence of the same letter (or sound) at the beginning of successive words, such as the familiar tongue-twister: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Alliteration lends a poetic feeling to passages and enhances the atmosphere of a given scene without creating wordiness.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, (The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe 1845) [2]

When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees, (Birches, by Robert Frost 1916) [3]

The way we habitually construct our prose is our voice, and that voice determines the impact of our work. Different readers have widely different tastes, but no one enjoys bad writing.

Constructing our work to fit the market we are writing for is crucial to finding readers. However, all readers want to find good writing and are attracted to work that tells a story with atmosphere and emotion.

Neil_Gaiman_QuoteActive phrasing generates emotion. Sometimes, using similes, repetition, and alliteration in subtle applications enhances the worldbuilding without beating your reader over the head.

We all know worldbuilding must be organic and natural, but we don’t all know how to achieve it. Subtle application of these seven rules will empower your worldbuilding. The casual reader will be immersed but unaware of the mechanics. They won’t realize why the work is powerful.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Works. Published in 1904. Vol. VIII. Letters and Social Aims, VI. Quotation and Originality, Bartleby.com, accessed (June 11, 2022)

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “The Raven,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Raven&oldid=908701892 (accessed June 11, 2022).

[3] Wikipedia contributors, “Birches (poem),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Birches_(poem)&oldid=886359747 (accessed June 11, 2022).


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How the Written Universe Works part 3: Lay, Lie, Laid #amwriting

Every now and then, the most paradoxical mystery in the written universe rears its head—the question, “Is it lay, lie, or what?” Today we will revisit one of the more misused verbs in the English language: the many tenses and uses of the verb ‘lay.’

How the written universe works 3In the written narrative, the many forms of this verb are what antimatter is to ordinary matter. When used improperly, things unravel. The problem is, we routinely use the words lay and lie and all their forms incorrectly as a matter of habit in our daily speech.

We are accustomed to hearing the wrong use of verb forms in conversation. However, we notice incorrect usage when reading. This paradox causes confusion for our readers when we misuse the verb “lay” and all its tenses in a narrative.

Don’t feel alone in this. Even editors struggle with the words lay, lie, and laid and regularly refer to grammar guides to remind themselves of the correct usage.

I often have to stop in my own work and make sure I am using it correctly.

Do I mean to lay down or lie down?

It boils down to a simple concept: is the object of the verb RECLINING, or was it PLACED THERE?

transitive verb“Lay” is a transitive verb that refers to putting something in a horizontal position. At the same time, “lie” is an intransitive verb that refers to being in a flat position.

“Lay” is a verb meaning to put or place something somewhere. It has a direct object. Its principal parts are “lay,” “laid,” “laid,” and “laying.”

The words refer to the action: If you place it (object) there, it is laying there. Lay it there. Lay it on the pillow.

If it is resting or reclining, it is lying there.

  • Lie down.
  • Lying down.
  • Lie down, Sally. (Clapton had it wrong? Say it isn’t so!)

The internet is your friend. The following is a quote from the website, Get it Write: 

[1] The verbs to lie and to lay have very different meanings. Simply put, to lie means “to rest,” “to assume or be situated in a horizontal position,” and to lay means “to put or place.” (Of course, a second verb to lie, means “to deceive,” “to pass off false information as if it were the truth,” but here we are focusing on the meaning of to lie that gives writers the most grief.)

Languages change, and we are certainly moving toward a time when style and grammar books no longer distinguish between lay and lie, but we aren’t there yet.

intransitive verbTo lie is an intransitive verb: it shows action, and the subject of the sentence engages in that action, but nothing is being acted upon (the verb has no direct object).

Put another way, the verb to lie does not express the kind of action that can be done to anything. Remember that it means “to recline” or “to rest.”

It is conjugated this way:

  • lie here every day. (Everyone lies here. They lie here.)
  • am lying here right now.
  • lay here yesterday.
  • will lie here tomorrow.
  • have lain here every day for years. [1]

Lay, Lie, Laid chart

This is where things get tense: present, past, and future.

A ring lay on the pillow. 

  • Present tense: I lay an object on the pillow.
  • Future tense: I will lay an object on the pillow.
  • Past tense: I laid an object on the pillow.

But I needed to rest. In this context, lie is a verb meaning to recline. It requires no direct object, and its principal parts are lie, lay, lain, and lying.

  • I’m going to lie in bed for another hour.
  • I feel safe lying in my bed.
  • I had lain in bed long enough, so I got up.

So, what this all boils down to is:

matter antimatter LIRF04102022 The verb that means “to recline” is “to lie,” not “to lay.” If we are talking about the act of reclining, we use “lie,” not “lay.” “When I have a headache, I lie down.”

The verb laid must have a direct object. Something is put or placed: “I laid my papers on your desk after the meeting.” In our modern dialect, the verb laid is used far less often than put, set, or placed, so it has become confusing.

But just to confuse things a lot more:

A living body lies down and rests.

A dead body is cleaned up and laid out by other people if the said corpse is important to them. However, after being laid out, the corpse is lying in state to allow mourners to pay their respects.


Previous posts in the series, How the Written Universe Works:

How the written universe works part 1: the connecting particle 

How the written universe works part 2: the physics of conversation 

This post: How the Written Universe Works part 3: Lay, Lie, Laid


[1] Quote from: To Lie, or To Lay, by Nancy Tuten, Get it Write online, To Lie or To Lay? | Get It Write Online, accessed April 10, 2022.


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#amwriting: verbs, gerunds, and infinitives

Hamlet Poster Benedict CumberbatchA dear friend and I have been discussing gerunds. “Gerund” is a term (from our roots in Latin grammar) for a verb form that functions as a noun. Gerunds are nouns formed from verbs and they describe actions.

The gerund in English is usually identified by the addition of the three letters “ing” added at the end of an infinitive. For example:

  • “to be” is changed to “being”
  • “to eat” is changed to “eating”

So what is an infinitive? Basically, an infinitive verb is a verb with the word “to” in front of it:

  • to be
  • to have
  • to hold
  • to walk
  • to dream
  • to sleep

Without the word “to,” each of the above words is just a base verb. They are finite, limited. They are the action, end of story. When you add the word “to” in front of the action it is no longer finite—it becomes unlimited, or infinite: an infinitive. This lack of boundaries creates a passive voice when telling a story, and for some narratives it is appropriate.

However, we want our work to have an active voice if we are writing modern genre fiction, so we must do our best to avoid the overuse of infinitives.

When we first begin sharing our work in writers’ groups, we are shown instances of where the use of infinitives creates a passive narrative, separating the reader from the action. We choose to combat that by eliminating as many instances of these words as we can, and in some places, changing them into a more active form: the gerund.

A side bit of trivia: in modern speech, expressions such as “can’t stand,” “couldn’t help,” and “it’s no use” are frequently followed by gerunds:

  • I can’t stand running in place.
  • It’s no use harping at me; I won’t change my mind.

Traditionally, the gerund has four forms: two for the active voice and two for the passive. Consider the word “love,” a word that can either be a thing (a noun) or an action (a verb). For this exercise we are looking at the verb form:


You will note that one form is referred to as “Perfect” and you are wondering how this relates to our gerund. The word perfect literally means “made complete” or “completely done.” Thus, the three perfect tenses in English are the three verb tenses which show action already completed.

  • Present Perfect: I have seen it. (This is done. Finished. End of story).
  • Past Perfect: I had seen it. (It happened in the past. It’s done, so get over it.)
  • Future Perfect: I will have seen it. (Okay, it’s not done yet, but when it is, I will be the one to report that it is finished).

Consequently, having loved indicates that the act of loving is completed.

I mentioned that we sometimes avoid using a passive voice, by changing infinitives to gerunds.  But when should we NOT use a gerund? This just came up in my own work, prompting this bit of research:

One of my personal first-draft sins is the infamous “subject-less gerund-participial clause that is left hanging in space without an understood subject (this is known as the dangling participle). It happens to me most often when I begin a sentence with a gerund:

Being desperately poor, chocolate was scarce, as was milk.

In MY mind, as the writer, the word “being” in the above sentence relates to my character’s poverty. But a reader might stop and say “Huh? What?” To clarify that, I should say, The family was desperately poor. Chocolate was scarce, as was milk.”

GerundsThis tendency to inadvertently create confusion is why I try not to start a sentence with a gerund, unless it is the only way to express that thought and can be done in a clear, unambiguous fashion.

Also, we should not use gerunds with infinitives (to be, to do, etc.) UNLESS the word “to” is being used as a preposition. Remember this quick trick: if you can put the pronoun “it” after the word “to” and form a meaningful sentence, then the word “to” in that instance is a preposition.

For example:

  • to look forward to (it)
  • to be accustomed to (it)
  • to get around to (it)
  • to be used to (it)

It is important to recognize that the word “to” is a preposition in these cases because it must be followed by a gerund. It is not part of the infinitive form of the verb. (Prepositions may be defined as any word or group of words that relates a noun or a pronoun to another word in the sentence.)

An excellent page on this subject can be found at the University of Victoria’s ELC Study Zone: Gerunds. A quote from this page regarding gerunds and prepositions:

“But… only gerunds can be the object of a preposition.

“We are talking about writing in English.” (end quote)

I graduated from high school, but my formal education was somewhat lacking in this area. Either I was staring out the window when the teachers were talking about proper use of gerunds, or it wasn’t a subject we discussed–I don’t know. But somehow I didn’t pick up on it then.

Forty years on, I’ve formed certain writing habits and often use gerunds incorrectly in my first, second and even third drafts, which leads to confusing prose. The words made perfect sense when I wrote them, and I can’t catch them all when I am making revisions.

This is why a sharp beta reader and a good line-editor are lifesavers.


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