Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Quick Red Edit Jumps Over the Lazy Verb

What is a lazy verb? Can a verb really be lazy? As a writer, would you let a lazy verb sit on its ass or would you give a good kick in the tush? Editors love to highlight these in your manuscript and like the proverbial show, don’t tell, the lazy verb is the bane of a writer’s editing existence. So what exactly is a lazy verb?

Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. A lazy verb tells you what someone or something is doing, but it doesn’t show the action. It doesn’t give the action flavor, texture or imagery. The rain came down. Yes, absolutely, rain comes down. Obviously gravity works.

But rain does more than just come down. Rain splashes. Rain squelches. Rain cascades down in sheets. Rain strikes like tiny wet bullets. Rain is a lot more active than just come down. Even when rain is lazy, rain drizzles or spatters. It can drip, drop, mist, mizzle, shower, spit, spray and sprinkle. These are all actionable verbs, actionable and descriptive.

They are not lazy verbs.


Walk

Did you know that when a character walks from one room to another or even from one scene to another that just to walk is a lazy verb?

He walked in the room.

Okay, the character walked in. But how did he walk in? Did he strut? Did he advance, amble, ambulate, canter, lumber, march, meander, pace, pad, parade, patrol, perambulate, plod, prance, promenade, race, roam, rove, run, saunter, scuff, shamble, shuffle, slog, stalk, step, stride, stroll, strut, stump, toddle, tour, traipse, tramp, troop, trudge or wander?

Each of these verbs gives you more insight into the action and into the character. It adds depth and layers to the story. It’s also, not lazy.

Look

Characters look at each other all the time, right? Chance looks at Jack. Jack looks at Chance. Marsha looks at Greg. Greg looks at Marsha. John Boy looks at Martha. Martha looks at the Doctor. The Doctor looks at Jack.

You get the point.

To look at something is just that – it’s an action. It’s nothing more than a stage direction. It doesn’t convey emotion, depth or texture.

So when Jack looked at Chance, did he admire, attend, behold, beware, consider, contemplate, eye, feast his eyes, flash, focus, gape, gawk, gaze, get a load of, glance, glower, goggle, heed, inspect, mark, mind, note, notice, observe, ogle, peep, peer, pore over, read, regard, rubberneck, scan, scout, scrutinize, see, spot, spy, stare, study, survey, take a gander, take in the sights, tend, view or did he simply watch?

Verbs Denote Action

Basic understanding of the parts of grammar indicates that your verbs denote action. They describe what your character is doing and if they aren’t lazy, they show how your character is doing it. A man who shambles into the room inspecting the carpet at his feet is a potent and colorful mental image versus the man who walks in looking at his feet.

During the re-reading, proofreading and rewriting stages you can highlight these lazy verbs and go back to punch them up. The use of lazy verbs is the difference between a good read and a great experience.

What are you favorite, action verbs?

4 comments:

  1. Great topic, and excellent title! I really liked this post... er, rather, I enjoyed, appreciated, connected with this post and will bookmark, file, keep, preserve, retain, remember, hold on to the link.
    Thanks.

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  2. What a timely reminder! I haven't considered lazy verbs much since I left the radio station in 2006, and I'm still in the early stages of editing my first novel. Thank you.

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  3. Hi :)
    I love the title of your blog post!
    Very informative and a great reminder on passive verbs.
    I cut & pasted this to my permanent Writing folder.
    Excellent, Heather, thank you.
    All the best,
    @RKCharron
    xoxo

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