Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Power of Verbs and Nouns


If you have ever wondered how you can make your writing that much stronger, then the power of verbs and nouns might help. Unlike adjectives and adverbs, which actually weaken your writing, the use of strong verbs and nouns make the narrative more dynamic, vibrant and, above all, active in order to help strengthen the narrative considerably.
They are often referred to as ‘action’ words because they are especially useful for the fluidity and motion within sentences, where the subject is ‘doing’ something.  So when it comes to injecting clarity, movement and action, words like walk, grab, run and chop etc., convey to the reader exactly what they need to know. 

They can express the physical (to run, to walk, to fight), they can show a state of being (to appear, to be) or they can show us mental actions (to think, to ponder).

The interesting thing about verbs is that, unlike adverbs and adjectives, they can change in form, and there are several forms that belong to verbs.  For example, the verb to walk has five forms, which have different dynamics to sentences:

To walk, walk, walks, walked and walking.
 

-To walk with Tom is fun.

-I took a walk with Tom.

-Our walks together are fun.

-I walked with Tom.

-I like walking with Tom.

These examples show the difference with each sentence, whether it is to show past, present or future tense, to show the tone of the narrative and to convey active or passive voice.

One thing writers should always aim for is to make the verb active rather than passive. There are still lots of beginners who get confused with this. For example:
The plant was watered by the manager.

The whole sentence is clunky because of the passive voice.  It doesn’t read well at all.
Now the same sentence, but with active voice:

The manager watered the plant.

The difference is very noticeable and so much better in active voice.  It’s tighter, concise and easier to read and is so much stronger than the passive voice.
What about nouns?  Nouns refer to people, places, animals or things, for instance telephone is a thing, London is a place, a dog is an animal and Tom is a person. For example:

Tom visited London with his dog, Jenny, and used a telephone to call home once he had arrived.

Nouns provide a multitude of functions within sentences – as subjects, as direct objects, as indirect objects, as subject complements or object complements They are everywhere, and without them, writing would be pretty bland.

How do verbs and nouns work?
In fiction writing, verbs and nouns do the work for you.  Using more active verbs enables you to be specific within your writing, and nouns tell us the people, the places, the objects, animals and things. For example:

Tom grabbed the flashlight and listened at the door.  He heard the sound in the hallway, dull thud down each stair. His pulse drummed hard beneath his clammy skin, but despite the fear, he knew he had to investigate
The narrative in this example has ten common nouns – highlighted in bold.  There are also some verbs in there, with the odd adjective just to round the off paragraph. You can see from the example how nouns and verbs help the narrative flow, it’s active, it’s dynamic and it also conveys to the reader the mood of narrative.

Every sentence you write contains verbs and nouns, but because writers tend to rely too much on adjectives and adverbs, which means that there are not enough verbs and nouns in the narrative, for instance:

John was terribly handsome and wore thick black ruffled shirt and was dancing around the floor, showing off to the girls.  His bright blue sparkling eyes majestically caught every girl’s attention…

This whole paragraph is strewn with adverbs and adjectives.  With strong verbs and nouns, the sentence is much better, like this:

John’s blue eyes sparkled as he showed off to the girls gathered around the dance floor. Lean and handsome in his ruffled shirt, he caught every girl’s attention with his dance moves.

While it’s true that you can’t eradicate every adverb or adjective from your narrative – sometimes some of these words are required – you can minimise the amount you use.  Writers often rely too much on adjectives, and there is such thing as adjective overload.  All they do is clog the narrative.

Another thing writers don’t always see is the adverb usage.  Read through your manuscript/story and you will find more adverbs than you thought you had, guaranteed.  Weed them out, prune, cut back and reassemble using verbs and nouns and see the difference.
Remember the maxim: let your verbs and nouns do the work.

Next week: Expressing tone in your writing.

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