I chose the title of today’s post with great care. Not only did it give me an excuse to blast out one of my favourite songs but it might attract a legion of hits. If it doesn’t, the title of my next post is going to have to be much raunchier.
The above should also serve to illustrate the purpose of today’s post. This line is one of my favourites because it conjures up a vivid image for me. (Of course, it also appeals to the ‘sauciness’ in me.) It would not be the same image if Mr Springsteen’s lyrics went along the lines of ‘Hop onto the back of my Vesper…’ or ‘Jump up Babe…’
I am one of those writers who coverts words. I hoard them like a magpie hoards shiny objects. (I like shiny objects too, especially if they are diamonds.) However, if a word can evoke an image easily for me or I think it is a ‘strong word’ then I grab it and bury it in my treasure trove of words; a notebook crammed full of scribbled words I have heard and love. It is a cornucopia of delight. If I require a word for an article, I open up my tattered book, rummage through the pages until my eyes alight upon a potential contender and then I use it.
I certainly don’t want to preach to authors who are no doubt far more eloquent than me. I merely wish to remind us all that are so many words that we could employ in our writing but we don’t. I am as guilty as the next person. My vocabulary gravitates around a few well worn phrases and words. I overuse certain verbs and adjectives. I swear a lot too.
When I was a child if I came across a word I didn’t understand I would ask my mother what it meant. She, in turn, would send me to ‘The Big Black Book’ which was an enormous dictionary, large enough to use as a table for a large family. I had to seek out the word and learn its meaning. It wasn’t long before I could trot out sentences like “Plutarch may lack the profundity of Augustine and the acumen of Aristotle, but he is an excellent philosopher.” Not bad for a three year old, eh?
As I got older I probably became lazier or even complacent. That can be reflected in my writing which is why I now read out aloud anything I have written and pick up on repetition or just plain old exhausted verbs.
I often review other’s novels and am flabbergasted periodically by their continual usage of ‘said’. ‘Said’ can easily be replaced by a vast list of alternatives. Some of these alternatives are what I deem to be ‘strong verbs’ or ‘Muscle verbs’. They give colour to your phrase. Why not try alternatives like ‘huffed’, ‘harrumphed’, sighed’ or ‘spluttered’?
A sentence can be transformed by using a more appropriate verb. Take the following for example:
“Pink furry handcuffs,” he whispered (panted, gulped, or gasped). This suggests something quite different to: “Pink furry handcuffs,” he guffawed, (chortled, chuckled, laughed or sniggered.) How about: “Pink furry handcuffs,” he screamed (yelled, squealed, babbled, shrieked, or yelped)? Or even, “Pink furry handcuffs,” he chattered (mumbled, muttered or grumbled)?
I think you get my gist. I’ll let the window cleaner out of the handcuffs later. The most common verbs that need replacing are ‘to be’, ‘to get’, ‘to do’ and ‘to make’. As Jordan McCollum says, “Strong verbs foster concise writing.”
Wanting to be an author who fosters concise writing I have written out a fairly modest checklist or cheat list of verbs to use when I feel I am slipping into the ‘Dull Zone’.
Before I wrote this post I checked with the rest of the Indies Unlimited team to make sure I wasn’t going over old territory and to alert them to the fact I would be posting on this subject.’ Cathy Spreight very kindly referred me to this terrific list of some 1000 ‘Muscle Verbs’, a veritable ‘pumped up, testosterone fuelled’ list of strong verbs which give your writing an added punch. https://www.donnaward.net/PDF/1000_Verbs.pdf I must make mention too of Deanna Carlyle who compiled the list. So, help yourself. If you are having a dry day, dip into the list and extract some juicy verbs.
Every writer has their own personal favourite verbs so might I suggest that you make up your own check list and when you sense that your writing is beginning to flag, bring in one of those beefy chaps? I keep a list by my desk at all times although why I have added ‘banjaxed’ to it is a complete mystery to me.
This was first posted on Indies Unlimited July 9th 2012.