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This week:Edited by: May The Machine Be With You
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Plot is a verb. ~Ansen Dibell, from Elements of Writing Fiction – Plot
I was going to go to the store. I had everything by the door and was grabbing it on my way out. I started waving to my neighbor as she came out of her house. She kind of waved back before I was out of sight. I was parking in an empty spot when I was hit by another car. There was only a small dent in the bumper so I was asked if we could avoid the insurance companies. With so many dents in my bumper already, I saw her point. We were going our separate ways until my cart was bumped by hers in the produce aisle. I had the feeling she was following me. My suspicious were groundless; I was turning the opposite way out of the parking lot that she did. I returned home with my neighbor still outside, though now on the phone. My paranoia was piquing watching her conversation, but I let it go and locked all my doors when I got inside.
Forgive me a moment for the inane content, but I wanted to illustrate the verbs. Recently I attended a writer’s workshop and the author in charge (Mickey Zucker Reichart) always harps on passive verbs. For a long time I didn’t think they mattered and I’ve run into the same attitude from some members on site. Publishers often have a different view. While I can’t speak for publishers, I have learned a great appreciation for verbs – especially the active ones! One of the other participants shared a sentiment he’d learned in another class: “The verb is the most important part of the sentence.” He’s right.
Stats for the piece above: 168 words total. Number of times the word ‘was’ appears: 11. I tried the ‘count’ function in WDC, but it only counts the instances in 4+ letter words. I learned I used ‘were’ twice in addition to the instances of ‘was.’
When I switch to active verbs, I take fewer words and it impacts the reader more. Not to say that’s the only problem in the piece above. It’s the beginning.
Looking in more detail at some of those verbs:
“was going to go” What stopped you? I think of this as a ‘pulled punch.’ I wanted to say something special, but I didn’t. Say something special! Make it great! Glue me to your work!
“had” Weak, but not passive.
“was grabbing” Passive - who did the action here?
“started waving” Did something stop you from finishing waving? Leaves the reader dangling.
“kind of waved” If you’re going to ‘kind of’ do anything, make sure you really mean it. It’s annoying to the reader. Does it mean you didn’t really do it? Technically this isn't a problem of the verb, but it does change it. (These last two examples are also pulled punches. Verbs do something. Let them!)
“was” Do I need this or could I spice it up more?
“was piquing watching her conversation” What is the verb here? I’m confused, and I wrote it!
The point here isn’t to stop writing to find the perfect verb. Write how it comes out. All of this can be dealt with in the editing stages. I highlight all my passive verbs from my rough drafts and fix them when the story is complete. I also work on any verbs I modified (or pulled its punch) and make it stronger if I can. There are so many verbs – one of them will fit the exact sentiment you mean.
I planned a trip to the store, so I placed everything by the door and grabbed it on my way out. I waved to my neighbor as she walked out of her house. She waved back as I drove out of sight. I parked in an empty spot when another car hit mine. We found only a small dent in the bumper, so she asked me if we could avoid the insurance companies. With so many dents in my bumper already, I acceded to her point. We veered our separate ways until she bumped my cart in the produce aisle. I wondered if she followed me. My suspicious were groundless; I turned the opposite way out of the parking lot that she did. I returned home with my neighbor still outside, though now on the phone. Watching her conversation piqued my paranoia, but I let it go and locked all my doors when I got inside.
It's still inane, but it is less confusing and easier to read. This isn't the only way to make that piece better; I wanted to keep the two pieces as similar as possible. (I wanted to, but did I?)
A couple links on this topic:
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