To inject feeling into our writing, we should use “feeling words”, right? Aka, adjectives? Not so! At least not so exclusively
. When adjectives are relied upon too heavily, the writing can feel overwrought, flowery, or slow; in literary criticism, this type of writing is referred to as “purple prose”. Notice how in the following example, cited by NY Book Editors, the first version drags on, while the second delivers the same information with a bit more punch:
The young, male soldier nonchalantly stood with his back against the ornately
carved wooden fence and angled his head upwards towards the sky, smoking and
staring distractedly at the cotton-ball like white clouds that moved westward.
The soldier stood with his back against the fence, smoking and staring distractedly
at the clouds that moved westward above the city.
So if we’re to avoid overusing adjectives, what can be used instead? Enter the VERB! In her New York
, journalist Constance Hale cites this example from Jo Ann Beard’s short story “Cousins”—notice how alive the following passage is, and how verbs not only infuse the piece with energy, but also serve as descriptions:
A duck stands up, shakes out its feathers and peers above the still grass at the edge of the water. The skin of the lake twitches suddenly and a fish springs loose into the air, drops back down with a flat splash. Ripples move across the surface like radio waves. The sun hoists itself up and gets busy, laying a sparkling rug across the water, burning the beads of dew off the reeds, baking the tops of our mothers’ heads.
In another editorial
, writer Karen E. Bender describes the power of verbs as “action imbued with feeling”. Verbs have the power to show how a character interacts with the world, she says; “they are not merely about action, but emotion.” To illustrate this concept, Bender sites the first line from John Cheever’s short story “O City of Broken Dreams”:
When the train from Chicago left Albany and began to pound down the river valley toward New York, the Malloys, who had already experienced many phases of excitement, felt their breathing quicken, as if there were not enough air in the coach.
The verbs used in this opening—“pound” and “quicken”—convey the Malloys’ anxiety; they reveal emotion, while also describing a scene and building a sense of momentum.
Your turn, dear writers. In a passage of narrative, use the power of the verb to communicate action, and also feeling, as Community Ambassadors Ruthh
do in these examples. You might want to put your verbs in bold to draw the reader’s attention to them.