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This week: Verbs Drive Your StoryEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about the importance of action verbs.
“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”
~ Stephen King
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
~ Ernest Hemingway
“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”
~ William S. Burroughs
Action Verbs Drive Your Story
Many horror writers assume it’s scary things and creepy descriptions that hook readers and make horror stories great.
Yes, frightening scenes and good descriptions are important, but the engine that drives the narrative forward and will keep your reader glued to the page is the action verb!
We all know that an overuse of passive verbs (was/were) is considered lazy writing and makes prose dull. But even though most of us can figure out a way to re-write and make the sentences active instead of passive, we can still end up with dull prose.
Choosing not just an active verb but going a step farther and choosing a strong action verb is the secret to writing thrilling horror that will make the reader’s heart pound.
From Passive to Active to Action
Passive verbs are when something is done to something else:
The umpire was hit on the head by the ball.
Active verbs change the passive sentence into an active one:
The ball hit the umpire on the head.
Action verbs makes the sentence more powerful and exciting:
The ball slammed into the umpire’s head.
Action verbs are the superheroes of your writing. They do a great job instilling a sense of urgency into your stories.
Examples of changing from passive verbs to active verbs, and then from active verbs to action verbs:
(Each of these are intentionally in one paragraph to save space, even though it's wrong! )
Julie and the Ghost (Passive Verbs):
Julie was shocked to see an eerie white mist come out of her grandmother’s old room. The fog was only feet away when it began taking the shape of a human. It was her grandmother’s ghost. Her grandmother’s murder was still unsolved, and the old woman was the only one who knew who had killed her. Julie was frightened as the spirit’s mouth opened. Before it could speak, Julie was running down the stairs and out of the house. But the word that was uttered followed her down the street. “You!”
Julie and the Ghost (Active Verbs)
Julie stood in shock when an eerie mist drifted out of her grandmother’s old room. The fog floated closer to Julie before transforming into a human shape—the shape of her grandmother. Murdered by an unknown assailant, only her grandmother knew the truth of who killed her. Julie shivered in fright. The spirit opened its mouth. Before it spoke, Julie turned, ran down the stairs, and out of the house. But the word followed her down the street. “You!”
Julie and the Ghost (Action Verbs)
Julie froze when a cloud of mist erupted from her grandmother’s old room. The fog whirled and twisted in the air. It thickened into a shape that loomed over Julie. From just feet away, her grandmother’s ghost glared at her. Murdered years before, only the old woman knew the truth about who killed her. Goosebumps sprang up on Julie’s arms. Shivers shook her limbs. The spirit’s mouth wrenched open, revealing a black pit. Julie spun and dashed down the stairs. Her heart hammered against her ribs as she tore out of the house. But her grandmother’s voice chased her down the street, refusing to be silenced. One word boomed like thunder. “You!”
But what if your characters aren’t running, leaping, or escaping from something? Can you still use action words to make the scene more powerful? Yes, you can!
Rick and the Ghouls (Passive Verbs)
Rick was lying in a hollow of ground with Sylvie next to him. Her eyes were wide and frightened, but she was staying quiet. The ghouls were searching for them in the surrounding field. Every few moments, the sky was lit by a flash of lightning, and he prayed no one was looking their direction. But even if he and Sylvie were silent, it was only a matter of time before the ghouls figured out where they were.
Rick and the Ghouls (Active Verbs)
Rick lay in a hollow of ground with Sylvie beside him. Her eyes, wide and frightened, clung to his, but she made no sound. He heard the ghouls shuffling through the dry weeds in the surrounding field. When lightning flashes lit the sky, he prayed no one glanced over at the hollow and spied them. But despite remaining deathly quiet, he knew the ghouls would discover them soon.
Rick and the Ghouls (Action Verbs)
Rick flattened himself in the hollow, pressing into the hard earth. Rocks jabbed his cheek. Sylvie curled next to him. Her eyes, wide and frightened, clung to his. Her panicked breaths fanned his face, but she stayed silent. Dry weeds crackled and broke as the ghouls prowled through the surrounding field, hunting them. Lightning flashed. He squinted against the intense brilliance and prayed no one looked their direction. Despite remaining deathly quiet, the ghouls would sniff them out and catch them. Soon.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some spooky stories for your reading pleasure!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "6 Types of Cliffhangers" Thank you!
Comments listed in the order they were received.
Vampyr14 writes: It's such an important thing to do, even if you're writing something that's not horror or mystery or suspense. Always leave them gagging to find out what happens next….
Yes, even romances can reveal surprising information or have a character behave in an unusual way to whet the reader’s appetite to find out more. Thanks so much for replying to the newsletter!
W.D.Wilcox writes: Love cliffhangers! Love 'em! Love 'em! Love 'em!
Taniuska writes: Love this post... I always try to mix up my cliffhanger endings, though sometimes I fail miserably. LOL
I’ve never known you to fail with a cliffhanger. You write them brilliantly! Thanks so much for replying to the newsletter!
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