Posted by: victanguera | December 8, 2009

Writing Prompt #107

I ran across a post recently on The Morning News written by Alexander Chee about a class he took with Ann Dillard. In the class, Ann told the students:

You want vivid writing. How do we get vivid writing? Verbs, first. Precise verbs. All of the action on the page, everything that happens, happens in the verbs. The passive voice needs gerunds to make anything happen. But too many gerunds together on the page makes for tinnitus: Running, sitting, speaking, laughing, inginginginging.

She gave the students an exercise where they had to circle every verb on the page and see if the number could be increased. She asked:

Have you used the right verbs? Is that the precise verb for that precise thing? Remember that adverbs are a sign that you’ve used the wrong verb. Verbs control when something is happening in the mind of the reader. Think carefully—when did this happen in relation to this? And is that how you’ve described it?

I love that exercise. Seems simple, but it has the power to transfigure our writing.

So for today’s prompt, take a previous piece of writing, circle your verbs. Think about the number and what they say. Figure out if you used the best verb. Have you got too many adverbs? How can you change the verb in those instances?


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