“People love writing, people love reading, people love language. It’s so central to who we are as human beings.”
When people ask journalist, author, and editor Constance Hale what’s the one thing they can do to change their writing most quickly, she has a ready answer. Along with reading and writing more, she advises them to “Look at your verbs.”
Verbs pack a powerful potential punch that many writers fail to take advantage of. As Constance put it in a recent interview in The Writer (January 2013): “When you’re stopping to think about what word you’re using, and looking for a better word, your writing becomes more precise, more dramatic, or visual. And if you’re really focusing on the verb, you’re focusing on the subject-verb relationship.”
Constance has ample time and space to explore her love affair with verbs in a new guide inspiringly called, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing. In the book, which sounds fascinating, Constance takes a wide-ranging and free-wheeling look at verbs: their history, their versatility, their vagabonding nature. Along with power-boosting the writerly use of verbs, Constance also torpedoes some timeworn writing conventions and celebrates the “flexibility and suppleness” of language. A few tips:
Be bold: Ask yourself “Have I chosen the best verb?” Knowing the difference between “a paltry verb and a potent one, a static sentence and a sinuous one, the passive voice and the active one” can help you write with verve and brio.
Write rhythmically: Musical, dynamic language pleases the ear and the mind as well. Constance cites a passage from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens for its exciting participles and gerunds: “Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone. Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”
Fantastic, isn’t it?
Be clear: Don’t be loosey-goosey with language. Be precise as well as vivid. Consider the difference between munch and crunch, sparkle and shimmer, shake and rattle. Play with words and they’ll reward you with reader devotion. And write on!