By Sarah Andre
I volunteer to judge a lot of writing contests and one weak craft component consistently stands out: bland verbs and adjectives. A writer will choose, for example; he sat over a myriad of words that would’ve otherwise sparked the reader’s imagination. And that’s what great writing is all about, right? Hearing a reader say, “It was like I watched the scene unfold…”
So, let’s go back to he sat. Sure he did, but be more precise: did he sprawl into the chair? Flop? Kick back? Ease into? Huddle? What works for the scene and tells you a little more about the character? A CEO will claim a chair, a surfer-dude will slouch into it and a female thief, combing through the desk drawers might perch. See how none of the three verb examples is interchangeable with the other subjects? And how that verb choice paints a clearer picture in your head?
Other throwaway opportunities, IMO: move, got, went, took, put. He got out of the SWAT van becomes: he shouldered his way out of the van. He went south versus he headed south. She moved closer becomes she slipped closer. Did he take the cellphone out or pluck/snatch/palm it? Did she put the BP cuff on the patient’s arm or Velcro it on?
In this excerpt from Locked, Loaded and Lying, my hero is striding up a hill at midnight in a snowstorm when he witnesses a car crash through a guardrail down on the highway. Naturally, the real action is going to occur when he is at the scene, trying to open the battered door and save a life. So I could have made quick work of his return descent to the road. It’s windy, slippery and my hero is going as fast as he can. All boring words right? This is a lost opportunity to build the suspense and pace. Therefore I chose powerful verbs and adjectives, and sliced off any padded, filler words. The descent becomes sleek, action-packed and hopefully unfolds like a movie to you.
The thick forest would have made this descent treacherous on any given night, but combined with the stinging snow and thin, bobbing beam of his flashlight, his journey became one of survival. Flakes blinded him and clogged his breathing. Slashes of frigid wind whipped him until he staggered. He pushed on, slipping and sliding, and twice collided with cottonwood branches, the second one clocking him so hard it sheared off his knit cap.
Uttering an oath, he continued on, his breath now ragged. He reached the highway and half-ran, half-skated across. He halted at the guardrail’s serrated hole and swept the flashlight in an arc. A Honda Civic lay upside down on the embankment. The headlights shone with morbid stillness into the swirling river three feet away.
Play fast and loose with rules. Hijacking nouns and bend them into verbs. See if it sparks your scene. Happy writing!
Sarah Andre is a 2017 RWA RITA® finalist and writes ‘romantic suspense that keeps you up all night.’ Novels include: Locked, Loaded and Lying (2015), Tall,Dark and Damaged (2016) plus an anthology From Florida with Love (2016.) She lives in serene Southwest FL with her husband and two naughty Pomeranians. When she’s not writing, Sarah stays crushingly busy in various volunteer positions which she complains loudly about, but secretly enjoys. Her latest romantic suspense, Capturing the Queen releases in June, 2017. (She’s probably on deadline right now!) Website Facebook Twitter Goodreads Amazon Author Page BookBub Page Kiss and Thrill blog