Monthly Archives: February 2014

At Home with a Challenge Finale

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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 …”

“FLEET!”

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.

 

Under the Weather Conditions

A Warrior's Grave

Apologies again, my friends. I must delay writing posts for at least a couple of days due to a bout of under-the-weather conditions. I can’t keep focused on enough words in a row to make a difference at the moment.

I’ll come back as soon as possible. Keep working on those verbs and strengthening your prose. I’ll see you again soon.

Happy writing.

At Home with Word Games and the Thought Verb Challenge

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Firstly, let me apologize for missing yesterday’s post. Life tends to blindside us on occasion.

Now, on to this month’s continuing challenge. I know, for a short month, this one seems to go on forever. Of course, if one intends to write with rock-solid word use and strong expression, this challenge will go on forever.

You’ve had enough time to struggle through discovering how many times you use thought verbs during each post, story, poem, etc. You’ve practiced with dialogue and learned that taglines aren’t necessary with strong verb use and judicious action description. (At least, I tried to demonstrate  that effectively.)

Did you sit down to write a list of all the thought verbs that came to mind? I find more and more of them every day. The experience can get frustrating.

To take some of the sting out of the exercise, play a game with yourself. Games teach, as well as allow competitive spirit to shine through. When you’re playing against yourself, you can take the time to laugh at the absurdity of your actions.

Use this example of a learning/teaching/can-only-win game.

Pick up your trusty-dusty thesaurus—I use Roget’s International Thesaurus—and open it to the index in the back. Close your eyes and jab a finger onto a page, anywhere. Whatever word lies under your fingertip acts as your beginning.

For instance: noun/verb—shadow

Our prey for this challenge centers on verbs. The noun shadow also acts a verb. This is your starting point.

Without going any farther, I find–shadow, verb: follow, darken, color, blacken, cloud, foreshadow

“Shadow” is tangible, concrete, at least to one’s vision. But what about a thought verb?

Example: to think—congitate, reason, suppose, opine, expect, intend, and onward for two columns of a 4-column page

Pick one of the synonyms—we’ll use expect. Look it up.

“Expect”—suppose, think, anticipate, intend, hope.

What do you see? Yep, repeats. But what happens when you look up one of those repeated words? Try “anticipate.” Non-repeated verbs are foresee and preclude.

You see where this goes. For each new thought verb found at the site of another, the trail goes on and on.

(Believe it or not, people work at this job professionally—finding all of these associations. Scary, isn’t it?)

If thought verbs generate so many associated verbs, shouldn’t concrete verbs do the same thing? You betcha, they do.

Look up the verb “fight.” Results: struggle, oppose, quarrel, battle, wage war, attack Choose one of these and begin the process again. I choose “Oppose.” Results: counteract, contrapose, compare, refute, deny, resist. You’ll notice that I ignored those verbs in passive form.

All of this flipping back and forth in our trusty Thesaurus tells us that we have choices that we can use, which we probably don’t use often enough. It also tells us, if we look closely, nuances of meaning filter through with each additional alternative. We can make use of those nuances to flavor our writing without padding the word count.

Alternatives always exist. One thing I’ve noticed in my own writing and that of others revolves around the fact that we each have favorite word groups that we use frequently. When we identify those word groups, we can work to create more flavor by choosing alternatives.

And there you have the game for today. Try to identify some of your favorite, frequently used words and phrases. Write them down, and then find alternatives for them. Regardless of how tempted you toward expediency in word/phrase, resist the lure and search out something new to express yourself.

Have a good time with this. The learning will pay off. Take your Roget’s and make it your best friend for life. See you in a few days. Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve drawn up your favorite expressions list.

At Home Day 12 Thought Verb Challenge—Substitutes

Hands on Computer

Anyone who took up this challenge also found that the exercise demands that one broaden her/his writing vocabulary and approach.

Let’s take a look at that situation for a moment.

To demonstrate how my revision style changed because of this challenge, I’ll give you the opening of a fantasy story I have on the back burner. Pretend that this is your first draft and decide how you would revise it to eliminate thought verbs and strengthen the passage. Following this excerpt is my first revision of these paragraphs. Also, try to eliminate as many “perfect tenses” and passive verbs as you can.

All of the masters had actively recruited. In fact, much of the instruction had fallen to senior apprentices in the last few months. Training had accelerated, too. Jen knew how correct her evaluations had become. Maximillian held no awareness of how developments progressed nor any awareness of the changes in the school. He needed time to make a valid assessment.

 “Time. Yesss. That does seem critical,” she pronounced into the quiet of her office. “I wish you to use the rest of the day for mediation, Max. You’re losing touch with core. That will prove costly if not corrected immediately. Find a suitable sub and return to core.”

 The dismissal created additional anxiety for the deputy. Getting caught out of core hadn’t happened in nearly a year. That thought struck him as a fist in the sternum. The key lay in the word “caught.” That meant that it had occurred but gone undetected consciously by himself or others.

Now for the my revised version:

All of the masters actively recruited. In fact, senior apprentices took over much of the instruction in the past few months. Training accelerated, too. Jen studied her evaluations and their accuracy.

 Maximillian failed to note how developments progressed or the more sinister changes happening in the school. Necessity compelled that he take time to make a valid appraisal. His lack of focus must stop.

 “Time. Yes-s-s.” she pronounced into the quiet of her office. “Use the rest of the day for mediation, Max. Losing touch with core hampers your observations and subsequent judgment. That will prove costly if not corrected immediately. Find a suitable sub and return to core.”

 The dismissal created additional anxiety for the deputy. Getting caught out of core humiliated any average student, much less the deputy director. Nearly a year had passed since the last occurrence.

Certainty’s fist hit him in the sternum. The key lay in the word “caught.” It shouted that in times past, it went undetected by him or others. His mind verified what his mentor refused to say.

His face radiated the rising heat of his embarrassment. His superior’s dismissal saved him from worse humiliation. He counted that blessing among the many she’d granted him in recent years.

“At once, Director.”

I changed very little in this piece, though I cleaned up a lot of it. So far. I chose to keep this fragment and the few paragraphs that followed for a later time. I can reread these and the whole story blossoms inside my mind.

When I went back through this one, I found few thought verbs, but I also found ways to strengthen the images without losing most of what much.

Sometimes I look at a piece like this, a snippet of potential, and use it to practice editing. At the same time, I work on adding depth, character, and purpose to a fragment that would otherwise go into the wastebasket. Such small exercises hone skills.

If you gained any insight into this writer’s method of revising and repurposing, please tell me. If I’ve given you adequate examples of my process, please leave a comment. Standing in the dark with a flameless candle leaves a writer in search of a match.

At Home—February’s Thought Verb Challenge and Prompts

Every Friday Flashy Fiction produces a writing prompt challenge. It could come as an image, a quote, or the occasional poem. The rules for resulting flash fiction seldom run to the rigid. The laxity in rules allows the writer more freedom for creating a short masterpiece.

A couple of weeks ago the prompt showed up in an image—a bizarre one, but those can present the best opportunities for creativity.

Art Piece placed bet hwys in South

Since laxity is the byword of Flashy Fiction, I chose poetry as my story-telling medium. The “feel” of the image screamed its subject and tone. The words used added the flavor.

Soul Cycle

They called it art;
A circle of metal
Standing between roads
Moving in opposite directions.

They called it art;
Spikes, bars, darkness and light,
Flowing in circular movement,
A never-ending dance in view.

They called it art;
Though few spoke of the
Smaller circles pierced by spikes,
Forever climbing toward the next.

They called it art;
Never knowing souls climbed there,
Ever-pursuing rungs not achieved
On roads moving in opposite directions.

When I put this poem together, each stanza evoked an emotion rather than provided one for the reader, as thought verbs do. All concrete verbs used but one—“knowing” in the last stanza. This poem found its voice before this challenge began.

Poetry tends to use concrete verbs. At the same time, thought verbs get sprinkled through many verses as triggers for the reader. Poets use language for effect on the emotion of the reader. They write to draw the reader into the poet’s world and immediate inner life.

Take Haiku, for instance. Seventeen syllables create a verse that begins in one place, with one concept or image in five syllables. It then transitions through a seeming continuation of thought, which twists at the end of its seven syllables, only to finish with another five syllables that juxtapose the first concept, but also completes a circle.

For example:

Water rushing now,

Stones weeping my memories

Time flows without end.

 

Short form poetry demands a stricter use of concrete verbs. In the case of the haiku, verbs refer to water—rushing, weeping, flows. Those verbs help keep the concept of water and its image in the reader’s mind.

Memories also rush and flow, as well as promote weeping for some. Time, too, rushes and flows and many weep for its passing.

Neither time nor water have end, for each is limitless in various forms.

I bet you never considered seventeen syllables having that much meaning, huh? (I know. “Considered” is a thought verb. Just seeing if you paid attention. :) )

When we use concrete terms, we create an environment with fewer misunderstandings. The clarity shows through, ensuring that the reader finds firm ground to carry him/her through the story, poem, or article without getting confused. That surety can make or break a writer.

Readers return to writers who give them value for their time. That value comes with loyalty and anticipation for future stories. After all, writers need readers, and readers pay for entertainment and consistency of good work. We all live in a consumer society, and books are products.

Now, try your own hand at a bit of haiku. Whether you’ve played with poetry before or not has little bearing. The exercise will help train your eye, your mind, and your ear. Poetry must be read aloud to find true appreciation. No one stands as a judge here. I certainly don’t.

Give it a go and you may surprise yourself. I’ll be back on Wednesday with something new. Get ready to work with a thesaurus. Happy writing.

 

 

At Home Day 8 Thought Verb Challenge, Next Phase

Be a Star photo

Have you created magic yet? If not, rest assured, it will come with practice.

Week two of the Thought Verb Challenge waits on the threshold of new discoveries or reviews of old tactics. I admit that I deliberately made the first week more of a challenge than I usually would. I find that sometimes, if we don’t leap into the deep end of the pool, holding our breaths until we surface, we don’t get wet at all.

This week’s relaxation time offers the opportunity to take a good look at what you learned in the past few days.

From here on, you will get exercises and explanations of writing tips from a different perspective.

I learn along with you every day. And for the sake of brevity, I will suspend my stringent use of our dreaded passive verbs for my purposes here. They do, after all, have their purpose, as you will see. And honestly, writing without them becomes a chore of monster proportions when coupled with thought verb elimination.  During the final week, we’ll deal with them again.

Now the real fun begins.

Your exercise for Thursday relied on your observation skills. The passage I gave you from Elizabeth Moon’s novel “Kings of the North,” acted as a prod to your editing vision. In truth, Moon’s paragraph didn’t possess real writing flaws. The editors obviously found no problems with it and neither do I, from a reader’s standpoint. From the thought verb view, she used three and those with reasoning.

“Arvin Simminson, now effectively master of the Thieves’ Guild in Vérella, finished his dull but satisfying lunch and picked his teeth while watching the staff of the Gray Fox common room at their work. He had not been in Fintha for several hands of years; the Girdish realm had outlawed the Thieves’ Guild. He would not be here now, but for the Marshal-General’s invitation; the Girdish wanted to know everything he remembered about their Paladin Paksenarrion. The Marshal-General’s seal on her invitation to him brought instant respect from the innkeeper, and he’d been given a table in the quietest corner of the big common room all to himself.”

For purposes of clarity, I show all action verbs in black, with past tense/passive verbs and thought verbs in red.

Three thought verbs found their way into the paragraph; and all in the same sentence. “Wanted,” “to know” and “remembered” appear in the next to last sentence, in explanation of the character’s presence in his present location.

NOTE* I almost missed “wanted” and finally found it only during the editing of this post. Sneaky little devil.

Moon could use many more words to explain the situation. but like many writers, she would rather spare volume for quick results. Not a flaw, but expediency for clarity. The paragraph and later chapter don’t suffer from extravagant thought verb usage.

The same situation exists for the perfect tense verbs used. The nature of the English language demands that past perfect, future perfect, and progressive perfect tenses require “to be” and “to have” in order to exist.

In our example here, Moon uses past perfect “had outlawed” and “had not been,” as well as present perfect “would not be” and progressive perfect “”he’d been given.” Three perfect tenses and standard past tense; all in the same paragraph; all because her character‘s situation required a time-relevant explanation to set up the chapter and a plot point in the novel.

I know, complication comes with this example, but confusion doesn’t necessarily follow. If you take into account that time always factors into a character’s story, you can keep the passive verbs to a minimum and keep things concrete/active. They may be required for set up, but you don’t have to go hog wild with them. See what I mean? The last sentence reads fine, but I could say, “They may be required, but keep to the concrete until passive becomes necessary.”

Hey, I never claimed this exercise as an easy fix. I find it as difficult as you do. I spent lots of years doing things the other way. We tend to write the same way we talk. We talk in shortcuts—abbreviations and regionalisms. Otherwise, we would hear stiffness, formality, and something we might call snobbery in our everyday speech.

So, for your exercise and taking our speaking reality into account, practice writing dialogue. Use the concrete as much as possible. Keep things active. The same goes for tag lines, unless you absolutely have to use a passive phrase. See what you can come up with. Share it here if you choose. I’d love to see it.

You’ve seen my previous examples. Use them. Play with them. Rewrite my scenes if it helps you stay on track for a while. Just keep in mind that I’m going to publish my story when it gets “perfect.” :)

On Sunday, do a simple paragraph for a story. Try for three to five sentences that give you only four lines on the page. Many times, writing tight forces concrete verb use. Give yourself permission to fall back on old habits. Go back, reread, correct as needed. Don’t chastise. Learning processes take time.

I’ll see you all here on Monday, and we’ll hop every other day through this next week, with more exercises and more examples. Happy writing.

 

At Home—Day 6 Thought Verb Challenge w/Excerpt

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The end of the first week of this challenge for February arrived with bone-chilling temperatures. Up here in the North Country winter temps in the dumper come with the territory. Some days of writing seem as frigid and unrelenting.

How did your day begin? Did you pop out of bed like the proverbial slice of toast, ready for whatever came your way? Or did you look at the clock, check the window for visible weather patterns, and slide back under the covers for a do-over?

Either way, unless you woke with a cold, the flu, or other malady, you got up at some point and made your way into the day and a living existence.

And did you keep up with the challenge, if you chose to participate? If you didn’t, don’t beat yourself about the head and shoulders with a … Take your pick of instruments of penance.

Today I’ll give you the last of my flash fiction story. I won’t leave you to debate how the woman died. Okay, so I might do that. I tend toward cryptic sometimes. Call it a flaw of mine.

I’ll give the story excerpt first and then deal with implications.

Day 5 Flash Fiction  story “Ecstasy’s Tolling Bell” excerpt:

“She said she heard a young voice singing a song close by but couldn’t figure out where it came from. Then she saw an older woman go up the steps into the church. The singing went on for a while before it stopped. When it stopped, a church bell pealed once.”

“Didn’t she go see why the woman went into the church?”

The female officer shook her head. “No, sir. Her little one needed her dinner and she went inside her apartment before the bell sounded off. She didn’t see anything other than that.”

Thompson finished his notes from the officer’s report and glanced back to where the coroner’s assistant helped get the body onto the gurney for transport. What happened here?

His mind teased unlikely answers from its recesses. He’d been on the job long enough to know that possibilities came in many packages—some straightforward, some dire and violent, leaving a few unexplained to keep things interesting.

“Good job, officer. Make sure to secure the scene until we release it. The coroner may rule natural causes. A few days from now, people will go about their lives and this will go into the neighborhood history book.”

“The movie of this will play in my head for a long time, Sergeant,” said the canvasing officer, a deep frown creasing her forehead.

“Why?”

“Because of what the lady told me before she went back inside her house.”

The female officer watched the gurney move back down the aisle and past them. Her hand went up to pull her hat off and cover her heart in respect.

Thompson cleared his throat, his hand mimicking the young officer’s simple gesture. “And what did she say?”

“Sir,” she caught his eye with her gaze and finished solemnly, “the bells in the church got removed fifteen years ago when the diocese abandoned it. Where did the pealing bell come from?”

Thompson sent an involuntary glance upwards toward an illusory bell-tower. Where indeed?

In this last installment of the story, a few locations seem to fudge the challenge rules.

Case 1: Her little one needed her dinner and she went inside her apartment before the bell sounded off.

“To need” falls onto the list of thought verbs, as a rule. In this case, I ignored the mental reference to “needed” due to the physical requirement of young children to eat. The child needed food. Now, I won’t argue the point that this fudging borders on the suspect. It probably does. However, humans—heck, all living things—have physical needs which require fulfillment in order that the organism can continue living and thriving. Now you can see my logic for its use.

Case 2:  “The movie of this will play in my head for a long time, Sergeant,” said the canvasing officer, a deep frown creasing her forehead.

The line refers to a thought process, a mental movie. If you look at the verb chosen, however, you’ll see that “ will play” stands firm  as the action verb in the dialogue and “said” with “creasing” in the tagline, both of which are active. The thought process only appears as the nouns “movie” and head.”

Please, if you find something that I missed, tell me about it. Time runs heavy when writing like this. If you chose to join me in this journey to writing concretely, you experience much the same difficulties.

A great dictionary and equal thesaurus help me through some of my word usage doubt. Most words have multiple meanings. Find them and use them. Discover a new world of unused words. Complexity of a sentence evolves from the idea that generates it. Simple words create complexity, too.

This journey teaches me much about myself and how my mind works. During these past few days, I see myself substituting the same verbs over and over again to dodge those pesky thought verbs or the passive ones in the forbidden TB and TH category. This next week, my action plan will concentrate of finding new ways of eliminating too much reliance of those verbs.

Your exercise for today relies on your observation skills. How well do you see thought verbs belonging to others. The following passage stands as the first paragraph of Elizabeth Moon’s novel “Kings of the North.”

“Arvin Simminson, now effectively master of the Thieves’ Guild in Vérella, finished his dull but satisfying lunch and picked his teeth while watching the staff of the Gray Fox common room at their work. He had not been in Fintha for several hands of years; the Girdish realm had outlawed the Thieves’ Guild. He would not be here now, but for the Marshal-General’s invitation; the Girdish wanted to know everything he remembered about their Paladin Paksenarrion. The Marshal-General’s seal on her invitation to him brought instant respect from the innkeeper, and he’d been given a table in the quietest corner of the big common room all to himself.”

Moon’s strong background in military life and excellent writing skills make her books ones that reel you in and don’t let go until the last word sighs on your breath.

Your task: find any example of Moon’s use of thought verbs. If you run out, and you may, find all uses of the dreaded “To Be” or “To Have” verbs. (I shudder every time I see them now, even though times often demand their use. Aversion therapy—my name for this process. Leave comments with what you find. Enjoy it.

I will return on Saturday with more on the challenge. I must begin a new story, for one thing, and play with more continual use verbs, for another. Until then, happy writing. Good luck on your journey.

 

 

At Home—Day 5 February’s Thought Verb Challenge

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Last week I began a short screenwriting class (4 weeks) in preparation for Script Frenzy coming in April. Tonight we present our first written scenes for review. One of the aspects of scriptwriting for fiction focuses on the removal of irrelevant mention of mood, attitude, thoughts, etc. Everything must be concrete and active.

The screenwriter doesn’t deal with the images created around the character’s speeches. Other than to name the location of the scene, the time of day, and a short paragraph to set up the scene at the beginning, the writer uses a few action lines to help explain what the characters do while speaking. The writer doesn’t show scenery, narrate the action, or describe anything else. All of those duties come under the purview of directors, videographers, costumers, etc.

Hence, screenwriting depends on concrete writing only and uses 99% dialogue.

All of which brings me back to this challenge.

Yesterday I showed examples of finding thought verbs in a paragraph and replacing them with more active/concrete ones.  Anita reported to me today that my explanation cleared up her confusion and that she could take the lesson and run with it now. Good for you, Anita.

How about you? Did my examples work for you as well? If so, good. If not, leave me a comment so that I can work more diligently to give you valid solutions during the rest of the month.

This next to last section of my flash fiction story today involves dialogue.

Honesty requires that I tell you that dialogue constitutes a problem for me. Poetry allows me to wax lyrical with description and narrative. Non-fiction allows me to work with facts, figures, and the occasional human interest subject, like travel. Dialogue seldom enters the picture with those genre efforts.

Short stories and novels, however, require that characters talk to each other. Words, regional figures of speech, attitudes, everything must flow through dialogue to enrich the story and place the reader squarely within it. The reader can learn as much pertinent information from character’s conversations as they can from narrative internal dialogue, and perhaps more in some cases.

I told you before that I struggle with taglines. Well, I do. Those tiny segments of action, telling the reader what the character’s face expresses or the gestures and movements made while he/she speaks give flavor. Irrelevancy creeps in, though, when too many taglines appear. Ever line of dialogue does not require one. Too many slow down action.

How do I know that? Easy. My critique group tells me with their comments whenever I fall back into using too many.

Now that I let you in on my trouble spot, here is dialogue that got the scrubber taken to it from my flash fiction story.

Day 5 Excerpt—

“Well— Never mind, you will tell me to wait for your report.” Thompson levered himself up to stand, taking time for a better look at the scene.

The old church needed tearing down. It saw to the needs of only rats and other vermin now. Day’s last rays of sun sent shafts of light through broken stained glass windows. Here and there, the floor sparkled where much of the absent glass lay shattered. Crumbling masonry dusted the floor and everything on it. Yet the oaken planks evidenced no debris where the body lay.

A neat circle of cleanliness surrounded the woman. Light shone on her as if a spotlight required that her end make an impression on the viewer. The pew beside her left no dust on her wavy chestnut hair. Polished wood held her head as if cradled in prayer, while the rest of the bench lay covered in filth.

“Sergeant, no footprints, other than hers. Besides rat tracks, I mean.” When he finished his report, the uniformed officer walked back to the front entrance and the other uniformed cop on scene.

“Doesn’t make sense, does it?”

“I gave up trying to make sense of death a long time ago, Thompson,” the doctor said. “Even those who go gently into that good night still go. The end remains the same.”

Thompson nodded and moved back to join the two officers at the front entrance. “Did either of you canvas the neighborhood?”

“I did, sir.”

Thompson stepped aside as a gurney came through the door, headed down the central aisle. He glanced back at the young woman in her crisp blue uniform and nodded.

“And?”

“Well, sir, I asked if anything unusual took place in the area today. Most of those who live around here work during the daytime, but one woman told me something odd.”

“What?”

You’ll notice in the first line, the detective levers himself up to stand and look around him. In a script, an action line tells the reader because the movement breaks the speech. The action line also gets written in present tense.

The director and videographer would determine how the next two paragraphs evolve for the viewer and wouldn’t show in the script at all. No thought verbs would strengthen the impact of these paragraphs. They show only specific details.

The uniformed officer speaks his piece and moves off. Again, the screenwriter would use that one bit of dialogue and a short action line.

We don’t require a tagline for the detective’s comment about “not making sense.” The man’s mood comes through in his words. The coroner also identifies the speaker in the next piece of dialogue and expounds on that mood statement.

After that Thompson moves, which necessitates an action line with a change of location within the same area and draws in two other characters for more information. Here, too, the reader discovers tiny bits of detail—one male uniformed officer and the other female.

Lastly, in this segment, the detective’s curiosity rises when the female cop tells him of the neighbor’s comment about an odd happening. His clipped prompt to her denotes curiosity.

At this point, if I used this story for a script, I would cut to a flashback scene where the cop and the neighbor stood outside the neighbor’s house. The scene would contain all of the conversation and its conclusions, along with camera shots to emphasis the dialogue.

Now you see how closely scriptwriting and working with concrete writing operates and how that same method can bring influence to how reader’s needs get satisfied with specific action language.

I’ll give you the last segment of the story tomorrow and an exercise for working with thought verb detection.

Happy writing, all.

 

 

At Home—Day 4 of Thought Verb Challenge

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Anita commented that she needed more information on thought verbs. Okay, Anita. I’ll give you some specifics to help you over the hurdle of finding such verbs in your own work and that of others.

A List of Common Thought Verbs—Infinitives and their tenses

To think, to believe, to know, to ponder, to remember, to hope, to feel, to sense, to anticipate, to perceive, to like, to love, to hate, to concentrate, to consider, to meditate, to foresee, to withdraw (as in attention/mentally,) to wonder, to analyze, to accept, to deny, etc. All emotions fall into this category of abstraction.

You see what I mean about a lively list of verbs.  It goes into hundreds of examples of concepts or other abstract verbs which represent mental functioning or aspects of action existing only in the mental realms. In other words, any verb which relates to actions one cannot touch in a concrete way, or which fall into the abstract/thought verb category.

Example of common thought verb use and its correction:

Alissa watched the boys playing soccer. She remembered Brian in college. He was a star for the home team. She wondered if he stayed away from their son’s games because he couldn’t play anymore.

The scene is okay as it is, even if its wording seems insipid. It introduces characters and gives them something to do. Yet, more live action, more character detail by removing thought verbs and showing the reader the scene would give a greater grasp of the situation. For example:

Alissa watched the boys playing soccer, their legs pumping as they ran down the field after the ball. Brian used to play terrific soccer in college, often carried from the field on his teammates’ shoulders. She touched the empty, first-row bleacher seat beside her.

Did he stay away from their son’s games because he couldn’t bear to watch the action? Did his legs ache or twitch when he saw the players stand bent over, hands on knees? Would he never make peace with the fact that he now lived his active life from a wheelchair?

Yes, the paragraph tripled in length, but it also strengthened and gave more visual detail to draw the reader in and place her/him in the bleachers with Alissa. The characters took on more dimension. Suddenly, the scene swelled with background facts that lent concrete information to foreshadow possible later scenes.

Does this type of example help fill in the gaps for you, Anita? Thank you for your question and request.

NOTE* For purposes of this challenge, I do not eliminate helping verbs such as “can, will, should, or would,” since the challenge pushes the limits anyway. Perhaps later in the year, we can work on such verbs.

Now to my personal story example for today. The following dialogue works to show how thought verbs can take a back seat in language without reducing meaning or effectiveness. This passage continues yesterday’s dialogue in the mystery of the derelict church.

February 3rd Passage:

“Look at her, Thompson. Divorced women of that age don’t usually wear wedding bands, but most married women do, and many widows do.”

“Hunh, I didn’t notice, I guess.”

“And you call yourself a detective sergeant.” The medical man smiled and  shook his head. He placed a gentle finger on the woman’s cheek. “Do you see any distress on this face?”

“I sure don’t,” replied one of the uniformed officers standing behind the sergeant. “She looks at peace and happy to me.”

The doctor nodded. “To me, too. She didn’t die in distress or at the hands of someone else. At least, as far as I can see now. She also did not suffer a heart attack. No grimace or tensing from pain. Whatever she died from took her gently. And from the way she leans against this pew, I’d say she stood here and slowly collapsed onto her backside, falling into it.”

His forefinger traced the outer perimeter of one of the woman’s knees. “No marks from a fall or from kneeling either.”

“If her heart didn’t fail, did she stroke?” asked Thompson.

The doctor answered him with a shake of his head.

One thing cleared up for me in dialogue when I began constructing sentences using only concrete verbs. I created a more natural speech pattern. People speak in fragments more often than not. We choose to take meaning from smaller chunks of words in verbal communication than in the written form. Life teaches that lesson early.

The practice also eliminated unnecessary taglines, a problem that frequently plagues me. The time necessary to write this way stretches out, but the rewards outweigh the time use. Revision may take far less time than ever before. I must wait to see if that holds true.

Until then, take heart and perform one small exercise for today and tomorrow. Go into your past writing, any genre. Look at one page of the manuscript or the entire poem.

Pick up that red pen of yours and circle every thought verb you can find. Choose at least one long section of the piece, and below it rewrite the section, replacing all of the thought verbs. Let it rest and come back to it in a couple of days. At that time, reread the original section and then the new one. Ask yourself, which one of them better represents the kind of writing you would rather show others on a regular basis?

Well, gang, I will return tomorrow with more of the story—probably the entire last section of it—and another lesson on thought verbs, their use, and examples of how to circumvent them.

Happy writing.

 

At Home Day 3 of Thought Verb Challenge

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Hello, writers. I must confess here that I got carried away yesterday afternoon and finished the flash fiction story I started for the challenge. I decided to give it to you in chunks instead of a paragraph at a time.

Please don’t chastise me. I got on a roll and the story flew from my fingers. I take those moments when I can get them, like most writers.

Here comes the next installment. The story goes into dialogue from here on. If you find anywhere that needs an edit because of forbidden verb usage, please comment and let me know. I need to find these things on my own and if I overlook them during quick edit, I must look deeper and correct. Okay, here goes.

Day 3 paragraph:

“What do you make of it, Doc.”

Lead officer, Roy Thompson, knelt beside the coroner at the side of a middle-aged woman. Her body leaned into the side of a remaining pew in the derelict church. Her knees, bent and resting against her chest, twisted to the side.

“Doc?” Thompson prodded.

“Damnedest thing to come my way in a while,” the coroner said. “No marks on her, apparent good health, not homeless from the look of her, either married or widowed.”

“Why do you say that?”

You can leave a comment, too, if you see any other flaws in the text. Feel free. This exercise gives me pleasure for a number of reasons, but foremost of those landed on the side of solving puzzles.

I do a lot of puzzles. They give me pleasure. Sudoku, word search, all sorts. When the thought verbs get removed from one’s lexicon, other choices must replace them. New ways of expressing a though or an action must act as pinch hitter for words I would normally use. Sentences solidify and stand up straighter. This one practice will get a lot of use by me.

If you chose to take up the challenge, tell me about it and your experience of it. Until next time, happy writing.