Monday, November 14, 2011

The Drama Is In The Verbs

One thing I've learned about writing is that the drama is in the verbs. Consider two sentences:
  • He ran quickly down the hill.
  • He dashed down the hill.
Clearly, dashing and running quickly are equivalent expressions in that they convey the subject doing the same thing in the same way. But don't you agree that the latter is more dramatic than the former?

I tell anyone who'll listen that "adverbs are not your friends" and this is one reason for that. When I encounter a lame verb-adverb combo, I ask if my treasure store of vocabulary contains a fitting verb that can replace it.

I don't recommend the writer ever rely upon the Thesaurus, except as a reminder for words you already know. Every word carries nuance that the writer needs to fully understand or s/he risks foolishly saying something unintended.

This is particularly important when writing the action scene. Every word counts in an action scene. Here's something I'm working on now:

Makeda sprang forward as Nell leapt to her feet. She wheeled on the Nubian, drew her stunner and cut him down. He convulsed and fell in a heap with his sword clattering on the floor.

Note the verbs: sprang, leapt, wheeled, drew, cut, convulsed, and fell. Can you imagine how lame it would be to replace these verbs with adverbial phrases like "ran quickly?"


  1. Well said, Steve - i try to root out adverbs in my own writing. Death to -ly words!

  2. It's hard to get away from the adverb crutch. Sometimes I don't even pick up on them until my thris or fourth edit. Funny, though, I pick them up quickly it other people's work.

  3. Steve, I love this post. Some great advice here. I would love you to do a guest post form my blog. It needs some good writerly advice!
    Contact me via twitter!/MoloneyKing


Those more worthy than I: