I’m fresh back from a couple of days at the San Francisco Writers Conference where I had the pleasure to attend a session titled “Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: How to Let Verbs Power Your Writing,” by Constance Hale.
Like countless others, I admire the brilliance of literary geniuses for their insane ability to provide detail with gorgeous description. I don’t have that talent, and with a rather weak vocabulary, probably never well. Yet, Ms. Hale, opened my mind to the strength of writing through powerful verbs. That’s a challenge to which I can rise!
Ms. Hale took the audience through a short story (New Yorker piece?) to which we read one author’s detail of various people jumping over puddles in New York City. The people were described as old, young, fat, tall, etc. and they all “jumped” with verbs that suited their characters. With so many verbs to color the action, the class likely imagined the scene exactly as the author had envisioned.
Ms. Hale warned that writers are apt to forget about verbs to focus on nouns and adjectives. According to Ms. Hale, each sentence has one of two purposes, either to provide description, or to relate action with verbs. The action sentences must contain BOTH a protagonist and a predicament. While a linguist may define verbs as transitive or intransitive, Ms. Hale explained verbs as static or dynamic.
As an exercise for the class. Ms. Hale challenged the class to take one minute and brainstorm as many words to substitute for the verb “walk.” Sadly, my list contained only five words including, stroll, meander, strut, step, and trot. The person with the most “walk” verbs had thirteen!
I know that I may never have the descriptive powers of a literary writer, but plan to have a lot of fun with verbs from now on. My storybook will certainly improve and I have Constance Hale to thank.
Now, dear reader, can you think of other words to substitute for “walk?” Feel free to comment with your suggestions.