V is for Verbs

From 2002 to 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (more commonly known as the CDC) came out with a campaign to get kids to become more active. I’m sure you remember the commercials for “VERB. It’s what you do.” As in, run, hike, jog, bike, ski, play basketball… etc.

Well, when you’re writing, you don’t want to have a story full of passive verbs, like the forms of “to be.” You want to express action, passion, excitement… instead of saying something like “Murray was very upset,” you can say, “Murray cried for an hour.” Using good verbs is a form of showing and not telling. Any writing instruction book will tell you that it is far better to show your reader what’s happening than to tell him what’s happening. Of course, there are some instances where telling is OK, but I don’t want to get into that.

Another good thing to remember with verbs is that they can be overused. In dialogue, most of the time, it’s better to use the word “said” instead of any others. Reading dialogue tags like “Shelley chortled,” “Virginia expostulated,” “Rachel screamed” can get exhausting. “Said” is a nice verb for dialogue because it blends into the background, allowing the reader to focus on what the characters are saying rather than how they are saying it. And of course, with good dialogue, it should be easy to tell how the character is saying what she’s saying.

So I suppose the writer’s motto would be this: VERB. It’s what your characters do.

6 thoughts on “V is for Verbs

  1. Hooray for “said!” Also, I recently had an editor comment on the beginning of my manuscript that the verbs are very dynamic but I could do even MORE. So when I go through my next round of revisions, I’ll be paying special attention to my verbs, that I’ve chosen the exact right one in every instance.

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  2. Yes, hooray for “said!” I’ve been aware of the under-use of that valuable word ever since I read the Hardy Boys books when I was growing up. One of the things that the editors always did to those books was go through them and replace every possible instance of “said” with some more exciting alternative. So, they characters always yelled and chorussed and cried and moaned and yipped and so on. It was exhausting.

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