Most of us writers are professional whiners. We know how to complain with colorful, compelling alliteration and perfect grammar.
And, truly, we have so much to complain about—low pay, minimal recognition for ridiculous amounts of work, a swamped market, the Big 5 monopoly that rigs the system and controls the best-seller lists. And then there’s the social media grind, endless platform building, the odds, the hours of harvesting the dregs of your heart, only to be dismissed because that genre’s not selling. Thankless work, really.
What’s the most important part of a story? The plot? The characters?
How about the verbs?
Okay, maybe they aren’t the most important part but wow, they can make or break it.
I’m reading The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton and I am dumbfounded (love this word – oh, and what a great verb!) by how he simply makes up verbs. Out of thin air. He takes ordinary words and he verbizes them (there! I just did it too! I verbized the noun, verb.).
Watch how he does this:
I remember watching my mother from the backseat as she stared at the telephone poles flishing past us, the reflection of the white highway line in the window strobing her haggard face.
The first time it happened, on the first page, mind you, I thought – flishing? huh, never heard of that verb.
But then again and again (and again) he simply created verbs where there were none. Jounced? (okay, that one’s real, but who uses it?) Vigiling? Birth-defected?
How empowering, I thought.
The verb you choose for a sentence can be the difference between eating vanilla store brand ice cream and Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food flavor ice cream. Totally different experience.
He walked slowly along.
The bird flew across the grass.
The bird flashed across the grass.
She thought about it.
She sloshed the idea around in her head.
See? It’s easy. And what Scotton has proven to me, is that if you can’t think of a verb, you can simply make one up. Nobody minds. Really.
The toddler wasted time.
The toddler fiddle-de-dooed.
If you need a few lists of verbs check out foxhugh.com who teaches ESL and has lists of action verbs, PLUS a cat and the hat rap video and a number of other interesting posts. You could also check out ResumeGenius.com which claims to be the longest action verb list in the universe, although I’m quite certain that Fox Hugh has it beat.
If worse comes to worse, you can also right click on a boring verb in your document and look at the possible synonyms, there could be a more interesting alternative there.
Want to pump up your manuscript? Search out words like was, is, walk, sat, run, read, stand, etc., you know the standard stuff from your first grade primer, and see if you can liven up your sentences by plugging in more interesting verbs.
It used to be we had to stick to Webster’s for our word choice, but I’m pretty sure that rule is long gone. I can’t imagine how spell check or auto-correct keep up. That’s their problem, though, because clearly best-selling writers make up words everyday—why can’t you?
Okay, it’s time to get serious about this writing gig. No more lolligogging about reading books about how to be a better writer. The excrement is about to hit the fan. I have a new book coming out June 6, 2017! We are now in the three-month countdown and I need YOU. (Yes, I’m serious. I’m tired of trying to do this all by myself.)
What? You don’t think there’s any way you can help? I beg to differ.
My first two novels, I’m Not Her and Girl’s Weekend have done well. There were plenty of lovely reviews from lovely people who took the time to read and then write about what they read. A bunch of other awesome people picked my book for their book club and then invited me to come to the meeting! That was super fun and luckily most everyone liked the book (there was this one grumpy lady….but even that was fun).
Still other amazing people recommended my books or gave them as gifts. So all in all, both books did okay, even cracking the bestselling list on Barnes & Noble’s Nook and gracing the New & Notable section of Apple ibooks (right next to Hamilton!!).
I buckled down and got serious about my assigned reading this week, plowing through three chapters of Story Genius. The picking apart of the story writing process prickled my nerves a bit. I’ve never been good at following directions and details bore me to tears, but I pledged to read this book so I powered on.
I found myself, nodding, duh, duh, duh at some points and at other times I underlined sections like I did in American History class, thinking, “This is the part that will be on the test.”
And then I went for a run and thought about it. I don’t have time to read to be reading. My shelves are creaking with books I’m dying to read. So, what is the point here? Why am I forcing myself to read craft books? Can’t I just write? Continue reading “Nature Vs Nurture: Am I a Story Genius?”
Reading multiple writing books at once has my head spinning. This past week, while distracted by my BIG NEWS, I had a hard time making myself sit down and follow my reading plan for becoming a better writer. I do my assigned reading in the evening, but each night I found a reason not to read. Instead, I spent a lot of time with my foster puppies…..
I’m interrupting this regularly scheduled post, to give you an exciting update (at least for me):
Unbeknownst to most of you, I’ve been agent-less for the last year, having parted ways with my previous agent who was a really delightful person, but who just wasn’t a great fit for me for a multitude of reasons that would be unfair to air here.
After sharing my disdain last week, I take it all back. Digging deeper into this book, I’m finding nugget after nugget of gold.
Maybe I was a bit sensitive after her comments about pantsers (those of us who write by the seat of our pants as opposed to careful outlining). I’ve decided that Lisa Cron actually does have room for pantsers in her heart. At least my kind of pantsing.
She’s not shoving an outline down my throat (at least at this point), but she does want me to know exactly what it is my protagonist wants and what is keeping her from it. The intersection of those points is what she terms the ‘third rail.’
While I may have no idea what’s going to happen in any story I start, I do know my protagonist inside and out and am very certain of what she wants. I even know the first obstacle which will throw her into a tailspin and start my story. After that, though, all bets are off, but inevitably obstacle after obstacle will present itself.
In my novel Girls’ Weekendthere were three protagonists (although Cron has helped me see that there is actually an ‘alpha protagonist’) and I knew what those women wanted (even though not all of them did) and what stood in their way. In reality, looking back, that could have been three books. A nice little series. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
So, yeah, enjoying Story Genius.
The other books are also inspiring me, even Donald Maass. Here’s a line I’ve been ruminating on from Fire in Fiction:
“Like a handshake, an opening and closing line can create impressions and expectations. They can set a tone.”
I’ve gone back and begun looking at each chapter and studied my opening and closing lines. It’s one way to be certain my story is bringing the reader along purposefully. He also talks about being certain there’s a purpose in every scene, not just artfully rendered sentences. I’m a serious proponent of that direction, and I chuckled at his line about the purpose not having to be obvious. There’s no need to “squat atop it like an elephant on an egg.” Totally going to steal that line at some point.
And then this from Fierce on the Page:
“This is the power of the written word. As we take in a story that affects us, we meet ourselves more deeply.”
Yes. That’s exactly it.
Natalie Goldberg echoes this sentiment:
“A responsibility of literature is to make people awake, present, alive.”
Doing all this reading about craft and purpose and style and function some days makes my head spin a bit and makes me feel like not only do I not know what I’m doing, but maybe I should apply for a job at the new Burger King that just opened in town. But Jordan Rosenfeld was there to catch me when she wrote:
“Trust your gut about what resonates and what does not. Know that you’ll know what to cut and what to keep…..You will find the alive passages, and you can even choose to build on them. Those are the words you are meant to write; similarly, the life that flows is the one you’re meant to live.”
I think she might have more faith in me that I have in myself, but I’ll borrow it for now.
May the power of literature change your life this week.
And now for all the self-promotional whoo-ha (cause this way we can be more connected, maybe even best friends…):
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