Monday, October 31, 2011

Verb It Up

Okay, so I know today is Halloween, and many of you are probably blogging about said holiday, but I absolutely hate Halloween with every fiber of my being. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I don't teach on Monday and that Halloween is on a Monday this year.

The joy is too huge.

Anyway, today's blog post is really about verbs. I love verbs. I think verbs make or break what I deem to be "good" writing. When I read, I'm looking for brilliant use of verbs, and when I find it, it's what makes me fall in love with a book.

Let's examine:
A MILLION SUNS by Beth Revis: That's right, I've read it. If you haven't read ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, you should. Beth is a master with verbs.

Now, no spoilers, since this book isn't out for a couple more months, but I just want to highlight some sentences.

"She snaps the box open."

This seems simple, but the verb "snaps" really adds, well, snap to this sentence. It could've easily been "She opens the box." but it wouldn't then have that something extra. That something that gives me an idea of how she opens the box, that emotional element.

"A million suns stretch out beyond me, their light piercing the darkness."

Again, this is a beautifully crafted sentence, and I think it's because of the "piercing." I love that the light can pierce the darkness. "Stretch" isn't anything to shake a stick at either. In fact, it's perfect.

I think using vibrant verbs is something every author can do better. I know I can, and when I sit down to write, I try to get the right verb to convey the meaning I want. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but the intent is there.

And there's always revisions. ;)

What do you think about verbs? Which books have you read where the author seems to be a master of verb usage?

41 comments:

Em-Musing said...

Yes, I love verbs also, but they bug me...always begging for a simile.

Miranda Hardy said...

I'm currently addicted to action verbs. My pc doesn't always agree with my usage, but I can't help it.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Of all the words I think about the most, verbs is by far the winner. They really can make a huge difference in your writing.

Great post, Elana.

Jemi Fraser said...

I love strong verbs too! If they don't show up in the first draft, I do a run through looking for places to beef them up :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

I love verbs too, in part because of your prior mentions of them. Wish I could remember them all.

Laura Pauling said...

I love strong verbs in writing. If writing is good, that's usually why!

Christa said...

I'm critiquing a book right now where the verbs are all over the place. I love what Stephen King said about how a strong verb makes adverbs unnecessary. Also, I love Beth Revis.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Verbs are action words! That's about my extent of verb knowledge.

Leigh Ann said...

By some miracle, I got to read AMS too - and the verbs were absolutely stunning.

If there was a list of the top five most frequently used phrases exchanged between me and my CPs, "You can get a better verb for this sentence." is probably number 3. One really important area to have each other's backs. :)

Christine Fonseca said...

I love well written books with strong verbs. Mary Pearson, Cassie Clare, Libba Bray - all are great masters of word choice, including verbs.

Kelly Lyman said...

Totally agree with you on the verbs, but on to something even more important to me: I've finally met someone else who hates Halloween!!! Yeah! I thought I was all alone in this world.

Bish Denham said...

Without verbs there would be no action. Without action there would be no story.

Susanne Drazic said...

Great post, Elana.

Please stop by my blog to pick up your blogger awards. Have a great day!

E.R. King said...

I'm a fellow Halloween hater (my poor kids) and verb lover (like what I did there?). Great post! Have fun hiding away on Halloween (I assume you do). I know I will! :)

Pam Torres said...

I especially love when a writer uses verbs to describe setting. Descriptions can be flat but as soon as you add a verb it becomes active.

Patti said...

I am the Halloween scrooge of my family. I haven't even bought candy yet to give out.

Sarah Allen said...

Ooh, such great sentences! I am so so stoked for this book to come out. This is definitely something to think about, though for me its probably going to be an editing fix type thing.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)


p.s. Now I'm curious about your Halloween hatred :) Story behind this, or just Halloween itself?

Donna K. Weaver said...

*jealous*

I really enjoyed Across the Universe and can't wait to see where Beth takes us.

J.R. Johansson said...

Totally agree. Verbs can really pack that extra punch. I love reading beautifully crafted sentences like these. Thanks for posting! And have a very Happy....day at home! ;-)

Marsha Sigman said...

It took a few minutes to get over the shock of your Halloween hatred...but ok, yeah.

I love verbs. Beth does an awesome job with them and I only hope I can come close to her brilliance!

John Sankovich said...

Gotta love the verb, it's what makes things go. Without them, we would all just be sitting still reading dialog. I know that my verbs need work in my revisions, but that is the goal of revisions.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

William Steig is (in my opinion) the reigning KING of verbs. His picture books use verbs and language that even I have to look up sometimes--but they are always perfect! Things like, "Shrek schlogged along the road" or "They deftly pried open a window and stole into the parlor with a drift of icy air".

Krispy said...

The right verb can do so much! Verbing it up is something I need to work on.

Liza said...

When my husband took AP English, the teacher required his students to write a 500 word essay every week without using the verb "to be." When I'm writing, I try to pretend I'm in that class, which forces me to use better verbs.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I have a love/hate relationship with verbs, partly because I see weak ones used so often that I hate them, but then I love it when beautiful verbs are used.

Great post, as always :)

Lola Sharp said...

I agree. Using active, strong, and specific verbs is crucial. One of my CPs (Summer Poole/Fray) is AMAZING at finding the strongest and PERFECT verb EVERY TIME. Srsly, she's got talent. One day you'll see.

Also, dude, your avatar on Nano...you iz making me HUNGRY. :)

Huggles,
Lola

Heather said...

You hate Halloween?! I'm guessing there is some story behind this vehement feeling of yours...

I totally agree, outstanding verb usage can make a book, well, outstanding. And of course bad usage can ruin it.

Brenda Sills said...

Aho! I love striking verbs. And I love that you gave us examples of great sentences from Beth's story - makes your post sing! Thanks, Elana!

Liesl Shurtliff said...

I think Markus Zusak has some of the best verbage in THE BOOK THIEF, and is generally a genius in all things literary.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Yes yes yes! I think it's the details--the perfect verbs and modifiers--that really elevate a book from the mundane. It also simplifies the language (while painting a vivid picture) to have such crisp, perfect verbs like that. Great post, Elana!

Michelle Teacress said...

I haven't examined verbs so closely, but I should. "Grammer is the greatest joy in life, don't you find?" (The Wide Window). Haha! I'm feeling very Lemony Snicket today.

Kelly Polark said...

I can't believe you don't like Halloween! But I do have to say it is the most exhausting day for a teacher. I had my kindergarten party in the morning then ran a center in my 1st grade son's class party in the afternoon and stopped by my 4th grade daughter's party too. Then my 12 yr old son invited a bunch of friends to go trick or treating with us after school. So yes, fun but definitely exhausting! :)

Jessie Humphries said...

Hate Halloween? Really? Hate? Good reminder on verbs. I think that could be one whole round of revisions. Btw...i won a critique from u at the killer characters blogfest! So stoked. I'll email u:)

Sara B. Larson said...

Sorry that you hate Halloween that much. Was it because you "Had a Bad Experience!" (name that movie) or just a general hatred?

As for verbs, yes I completely agree. I remember a teacher once explaining that a great verb negates the need for adverbs (every author's nemesis). Instead of saying someone "walked ____ily" choose a verb that shows how he walked - did he dash? Or slink? Or skip? etc. Great post!

Stacy Henrie said...

Love those examples! I think I do better thinking of more creative verbs in the rewrite stages then when I'm drafting.

Alice said...

I love verb too and the examples you gave are great.

Carol Riggs said...

Ooo, verbs are great, and can make or break a sentence, that's for sure! And I've read ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and enjoyed it, so this new book should be great!

Donea Lee said...

Great verbs kick a story up another notch, for sure! Can't wait to read Beth's new book. I loved AtU ~ :)

Matthew MacNish said...

I had missed this, but thanks to Stina, I'm back. This is called diction, and it's my very favorite thing about writing.

angelaquarles.com said...

Great examples! Hope you don't hold it against me but I love Halloween. Anyway, so true about verbs - just like clothes make the man? I did a related post last week about avoiding to-be verbs (Is your WIP in need of manscaping? Pluck out those to-be verbs)

cleemckenzie said...

Yep. Better a strong verb than one that needs propping up with wishy washy adverbs.

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