Change Your Flat Tire Verbs

If you're struggling with creating more active verbs in your novel, one way to make it easier is to do an edit pass where you switch out verbs based on which sensory experiences you want to highlight, either on behalf of character development or setting or tone of the book.

Where to start? To be verbs are the obvious choices when hunting and eliminating. Then there are weak or everyday verbs, like walk, run, see, hear, talk, breathe, eat, smell, yell.

If I want to create a fog and gaslight London, I'm going to use moody verbs. Instead of "walk" I might choose "slink" or "glide" or "trudge" depending on the character. If it's a bubbly YA novel, I might use more upbeat tone in the verb, like "bop along" or "skip" or "bounce". My husband tells me I don't walk, I bounce. And since I often wear a ponytail, that bounces too. He thinks it's cute and adorable. Great. So much for ever looking hot and sultry!

Back to changing out your flat tire verbs.... Let's look at a more intricate example, let's change verbs based on character development. Say I'm introducing my photographer character, Jules, so in those first few pages there might be more visually-oriented verbs. To balance these out, I'm going to add that she is a very tactically-oriented person. And because she used to be a war photographer and now has PTSD, the world easily ramps up a few notches on the tension scale for her.

So, using this example profile, Jules doesn't “run” she “sprints/bolts/flies”. She doesn't "see" skyscrapers in NY she "fixates on the masses of glass and steel cutting the sky and dominating over her space." Okay, dramatic, but you get the idea.

When in doubt, choose a more dramatic verb than you intended, and then scale down. It's easier to find the right word and balance this way. And if you are using Word, you can test your Passive Voice percentage (i.e. the use of to be verbs) by selecting the "Show Readability Statistics" option embedded in the Spelling- and Grammar –check. This post’s content earned a 0% passive voice.

Go forth and edit, lads and lasses.
Your Editor Devil