Back at the helm again. At last. This past week of recuperation allowed this writer to take stock of many things in my writing life.
This month’s challenge forced me to study sentence construction again. I can strongly recommend Great Courses “Building Great Sentences” instructional course. I reinforced my use of semantics and syntax. Use of concrete verbs became more natural for me.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Thought verbs still hover at the edge of my mind, willing and definitely able to leap into the fray whenever I lose concentration. I notice a tendency to separate my written word from my spoken vocabulary.
Speech patterns, riddled with passive verbs and those related strictly to thought processes, dominate my daily life. The written word fluctuates between strict concrete terms and those which teeter on the edge of passive or take the plunge when absolutely necessary.
I may never rid myself of those forays into the passive. Pervasive thought patterns may not allow such desertion of habits.
When I read work by others, I take note of how concrete or passive their work appears. That lesson became key to testifying to strong writing. While concrete verbs take precedence, passive “to be” verb use appears on a regular basis.
After a few paragraphs of action verbs—and make no mistake, concrete verbs are action verbs—the reader gets to take a breath, gets to pause long enough to relax. My screenwriting instructor told all of us in class to always place restful scenes between action ones. The reasoning went as follows.
If the viewer—in this case the reader—sees nothing on the screen but pure action, he/she experiences a continual adrenalin rush. They’re exhausted before the mid-point of the film.
The viewer’s mind and body need the break in action to relax.
The same applies to readers and books. After an intense action scene—a battle, a severe argument between protagonist and antagonist that may result in blows, a natural disaster and survival scene—the slow scene delivers a relaxing pause. Love scenes deliver that relaxation very well.
Passive verb use also passes for a natural pause. It defuses a situation. It also resets the tension-o-meter.
For example: An excerpt from Elizabeth Moon’s “Generation Warriors”
“Lightweight scum!” replied a block of heavyworlders, followed by blows, screams, and the high sustained yelp of the emergency alarm system.
Down below, Sassinak faced worse problems, despite the defensive block she had formed with Lunzie, the Wefts, and the two marines. The Speaker lay dead, his skull smashed by the Diplonian delegate who now bellowed commands into the microphone. Aygar crawled out of the ruins of the table and ducked barely in time to avoid a slug through the head.
“Over here!” Sassinak yelled. His head moved. He finally saw her. “Stay down!” She gestured. He nodded. She hoped he understood. In through the door pounded another squad of Insystem Security heavyworlder marines. Three of the Justices tried to break for the door, falling to merciless arms, as Sassinak’s group dived for what cover they could find. It wasn’t much and the three staves and one small-bore needler they’d captured so far weren’t equivalent weaponry.
This would be a good time for help to arrive, Sassinak thought.
“Yield, hopeless ones!” screamed the Diplonian. “Your fool’s reign is over! Now begins the glorious …”
Something sailed through the air and landed with an uncompromising clunk about three meters from Sassinak’s nose; it cracked and leaked a bluish haze. I’m not sure I believe this, she thought, reaching for her gas kit, holding her breath, remembering how to count, checking on Lunzie and Aygar. This is where I came in but that shout had to be Ford’s.
Moon uses two devices to gain breathing space. This excerpt comes from a major climactic battle engagement, with weapons blazing and bodies flying, all in three separate locations in space, simultaneously.
She has her main character “think,” which automatically draws a breath from the reader. She drops into passive “to be” verb use to add an ebb to the flow, which brings cadence to the paragraphs. Both devices allow the reader to roller-coaster through the scenes without having to hold breath for more than a moment here and there. In creating the cadence, Moon also creates an expectation for the reader for that cadence and its subsequent action to continue.
When I look at fantasy writers like Raymond Feist or David Eddings, I find the same devices used to the same effect. Taking this into account, concrete verbs with strong but infrequent qualifiers, and modest descriptors, and the reader gets good action, better placement inside the story, and more pleasure from the experience.
In the end, that stands as the writer’s goal—a pleasurable reader’s experience.
Now, back to this challenge. I’ve done all I can to give you solid examples, a few exercises, and with luck, a good experience. For those who may have done this challenge—how have you done? Did you learn something new? Will this help you in future? If you have questions, let me hear from you.
I’ll give another short discussion this week on the subject and then get on with next month’s photo context. Until then, happy writing, all. Enjoy each work as if it were your last.