A version of this post first appeared on the Rockville 8 blog in 2010.
Part One – V
In high school a friend of mine pointed out that the very best, most dazzling words – words filled with vim, vigor, vinegar, and vitality – begin with the letter V.
I quickly realized the truth of her statement and forever after the letter V has reigned supreme in the ventricles of my heart, the veins of my body, and the velvet of my soul.
I make my case below:
Virtuous vixens vex vapid viscounts with verve.
Venal villains vacillate between vaporizing vagabonds and viewing viscera.
Vintage vampire vivifies vengeful Vulcan.
Victorious valedictorian vehemently vaporizes vigorous vegan voles voluntarily in vats of verdant vodka.
Oh, yes, I could go on.
V is for Valentine, viticulture and…vocabulary. Which brings us to…
Part Two – Verb
Has an editor ever circled the various forms of To Be on a piece of your writing and suggested you use a stronger verb? I have. (Sometimes I still get pinged on this!)
Some of that is first draft-itis, right? Get it out, even if it’s complete shite, because, as La Nora (aka Nora Roberts) explained: one can fix a broken page but heaven help trying to fix a blank one.
And some of it comes down to lack of vocabulary. A small pool of words to choose from leaves us limited in nuance and at the mercy of the dreaded and dreadful adverb.
For instance: She walked across the room.
There aren’t a lot of clues in the sentence to set tone.
So let’s try a different verb:
Maybe she sauntered across the room.
Or scooted, swayed, skipped, sidled, slipped, slithered, stepped or shimmied.
Just a random assortment of S verbs that move your character across the room…but, wow, do they impart different visuals and moods, right? If she’s sauntering, maybe she has a reason to gloat or is feeling confident. If she’s slithering, is she the villain? Does she sidle when she’s scared or on a secret mission or wants to remain unnoticed?
When we choose a load-bearing verb, we cut down on the need to explain – it’s already there in the writing. We can trim the fat until we get to the lean meat of our story.
He ate lunch.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes a guy just needs to eat his lunch and move along. But we can convey so much when said guy shovels lunch down his gullet. Or drinks it. Or masticates each bite forty times before swallowing. Take advantage of our English lexicon. It’s there for our benefit and our readers’ pleasure. A wide and deep vocabulary helps us to convey nuance and increases the odds the reader will “get” what we’re talking about.
If you find yourself using the same verbs (or words) over and over–hey, it happens, amirite? I’ve taken to calling these “echoes” and, man, do they crop up like kudzu!–I have two suggestions that might help.
First, while at your revisions, try keeping a thesaurus open alongside your WIP (I like Word Hippo). When you run into a morass of to be’s, to have’s, to do’s, or to make’s, start playing with the thesaurus to see if another verb can pull the freight instead. You won’t (and shouldn’t) replace all of the to be’s, etc., in your writing. But, with vigilance, you can guard against their unnecessary proliferation.
Second, take a dictionary to bed with you. Stop laughing! (Guffawing, chortling, snorting, giggling and in general pointing your finger at the screen and sniggering). I’m serious, grab a lightweight dictionary, open at random, read a page or two. Not only will you expand your vocab and thereby increase the color options in your palette, but…it’ll probably put you to sleep PDQ. (Also, if you use a hard copy dictionary you’ll be off a devise and that’s better for your eyes and sleep hygiene, so, you know, bonus!)
Two birds, one stone. No more insomnia and a head stuffed with delicious new words. Of course, my advice is to turn to the V section first. V words rock.
So tell me, what’s your favorite V word? Or verb? What verbs do you tend to overuse? What’s a blah sentence you drafted then fixed in the revision?