From author Megan Ward via Anne R. Allen’s Blog:
Page-turners aren’t the only books that employ action. In every story the characters’ actions drive the narrative forward. Without action, a book would be a series of scenes full of dialogue and description, a literary Dinner with Andre that would put the reader straight to sleep.
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1) Evocative Verbs Improve the Action
The easiest way to improve the action in your story is through verb selection. Forget is and does and seems and feels. How about rattles and shakes and leaps and destroys? Forget was and did and appears and smells. How about hobbles and shimmers and carouses and spins?
You can even make verbs up, like “He drawered the manuscript,” “Her hair waterfalled across her face,” and “I watched the sand delta by the shore.”
We all know that active verbs are better than passive verbs, so try replacing “The book was passed down the row” with something like “The book jumped down the row from hand to hand.” Replace “The package was delivered to her house” with “The delivery man jettisoned her package from the truck before careening back down the street.”
Start by making a list of your favorite verbs. Think jitter, spew, fester, swagger, glimmer, squawk…if you run out of ideas try your thesaurus.
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3) Engage the Senses
Don’t confuse static “sensing verbs” (I feel sad, It smells good, You sound angry, She looks tired) with their dynamic counterparts (I feel the scalding water on my feet, I smell the loamy earth, The siren sounded throughout the town). And don’t confuse the use of sensing verbs with the use of sensory details in your writing. You should always aim to engage the senses in your writing.
Note how Sonali Deraniyagala uses dynamic verbs like hissed and rustled to engage the sense of sound in this passage from her memoir Wave:
“I moved on to make sinister noises when the phone was answered. I hissed, I rustled, I made ghostly sounds. The Dutch man spoke with more urgency now. ‘What is it you want?’ he said time and again. ‘Tell me, please. What is it you want?’”
Here’s a line from an LA Times article by Philip Caputo that engages the sense of smell. Note the use of the dynamic verbs overwhelmed and burned to convey the putrid odor of war:
“Their putrefying flesh overwhelmed the odors of smoke and diesel fuel and burned tanks, trucks and armored personnel carriers.”
Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog
Meghan is one of the authors of Writing Action