Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guest Post from Carol Kilgore On Using the "Just Right" Words

I'm so pleased to welcome as my guest today Carol Kilgore. I love visiting Carol's blog, Under the Tiki Hut.

Carol is a Texas native who has lived in locations across the U.S. as the wife of a Coast Guard officer. Back under the hot Texas sun in San Antonio, Carol writes a blend of mystery, suspense, and romance she calls Crime Fiction with a Kiss. She and her husband share their home and patio with two active herding dogs, and every so often the dogs let them sit on the sofa.

Today Carol is going to share with us some thoughts about one of my favorite parts of speech.

Donna, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog today. I can't believe it's August already. Why is it that summer always speeds by?

Speeds? Not my favorite word. Speeding reminds me of driving too fast and getting a ticket and having to sit through a Defensive Driving class for eight hours. Not that I'll admit to ever having done any of that, so you can't take my statement as an admission of guilt. But the officer was kind of cute J

So maybe I shouldn't have said speeds. Rushes. Water rushes off the roof in a rainstorm. Zooms. Summer rarely lasts long enough, but I don't think it zooms fast like a jet. Flies by? Does a season have wings? Hmmm.

Can you tell where I'm going with this?

I'm talking about verbs. Strong, descriptive verbs that show exactly the action you want to relay to your readers. Think of verbs as the Three Bears.

Papa Bear Verbs are too zippy and bounce our writing along like sugar-coated jumping beans shot full of speed. These verbs force the reader to notice the action in the sentence above all else. Often that's not what we, as writers, want. Another variant of Papa Bear Verbs is the unique verb. These are verbs that really stand out to the reader. We read it and go Oh, wow! That's great. I would've never thought to use such a perfect verb. Then we read it again. And again. And yet again, and swear we'll scream if—aargh!

Spiritless Mama Bear Verbs cause our writing to creep along at a snail's pace. The reader becomes impatient with the progress and begins to skim. She looks at this, she thinks about that. He's walking to the store. Pacing becomes a problem, we skim a page or two or to the end of the chapter and close the book. Maybe we don't pick it up again for a while. Or ever.

But Baby Bear Verbs are just right and capture the exact image, feel, and sound the writer is searching for. These are the verbs that you feel in your bones and know in your soul are Baby Bear Verbs from the moment you write them until the time you read them a dozen drafts later.

What about you? Do you strive to use Baby Bear Verbs in your writing? Do you have tricks you use to keep your verbs in line?
Thanks, Carol. From now on when I'm trying to select a verb, I will do my best to pick one that's "just right."
With a last name like Kilgore, I thought it fitting that Carol writes novels that blend mystery and suspense. If you're looking for a way to stay cool in the summer heat, check out Carol's novel IN NAME ONLY. Here's the back cover blurb:
No home. No family. No place to hide. For Summer Newcombe, that's only the beginning.
The night Summer escapes from a burning Padre Island eatery and discovers the arsonist is stalking her, is the same night she meets Fire Captain Gabriel Duran. As much as she's attracted to Gabe, five years in the Federal Witness Security Program because of her father’s testimony against a mob boss have taught her the importance of being alone and invisible.
No matter how much she yearns for a real home, Summer relinquished that option the night she killed the man who murdered her father. But Gabe breaks down her guard and places both of them in danger. Summer has vowed never to kill again, but she's frantic she'll cost Gabe his life unless she stops running and fights for the future she wants with the man she loves.

32 comments:

  1. Hi Donna and Carol! I like the use of Papa, Mama, and Baby Bear for verbs. I can think of a couple of verbs I often see in books, that I do not care for! They always stick out like the proverbial sore thumb!!

    And Carol....here in St. Louis, we are STILL having triple digit temps....just like you're "enjoying" in Texas! Have a COOL rest of the week!

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    1. I can think of some of those verbs, too. Sorry y'all are sharing our high temps.

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  2. Carol, I luaghed at the idea of The Three Bear verbs, but your analogy really put verbs into perspective! Take Papa bear... I remember reading a book by a Brit author who used "chuff" and the first time, I thought, wow. That's a great verb. And then there it was on the next page--and the next. Until I started laughing everytime I saw "chuff." Not what the author was going for (it was suspense).

    I really, really try to get the just right verbs, but I know there are some verbs I love and fall back on often. Fortunately, I have a swell bunch of critiquers who'll call me out. 'Cause honestly, "chuff" is good. But not THAT good! :-)

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    1. My critiquers are awesome, too. They really save my fanny time and time again.

      Nice to meet you.

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  3. I really loved the analogy of the Three Bear verbs - clever. Carol's book sounds awesome and I'll have to add that to my reading list. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. LOL! ATE is a good strong Papa Verb :)

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  5. Wow, Donna and Carol, thanks for this great post. Carol's bear analogy is spot on. I always try to use strong verbs, but never want to overpower, overwhelm or subjugate the reader :)
    In Name Only sounds intriguing. Crime fiction with a kiss, great genre.

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    1. Hi, Linda. Nice to meet you. I'm the same way. I'm glad you like the sound of In Name Only.

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  6. I whip out two posts per day on my light-hearted, complainy-type blogs. I like to create my own verbs. Because I can. My blogs, my rules. For example...

    My husband doesn't swerve and weave when he drives. He sweaves. He's a master sweaver, in fact.

    The students in my classroom have days when they are shenaniganning all over the place.

    Of course, this technique wouldn't work for "real" writing. I think you've helped me figure out why I skim and put down certain books: workmanlike verbs, punching the time clock, going through the motions until the whistle signals the end of their shift.

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    1. Hi, Val. Nice to meet you. You get it :)

      I love to make up verbs for casual use, too. It's fun to do. And truth, I don't mind a few different unique ones in a novel. But not many and not repeats.

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  7. I've just eaten a plate of porridge. I wonder if I should watch out for the bears? Loved the three bears analogy. It's so easy to fall in love with a verb and not notice...

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    1. I know that falling in love thing. I tend to fall in love with at least one new one in each chapter, LOL. Stripping them is the pits.

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  8. Clever analogy and timely topic. All of us could use some help punching up our verbs!

    Pat
    Critter Alley

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    1. We never stop learning. Sometimes it's something entirely new. Sometimes we learn the same things in more depth and see them with new eyes. Nice to meet you!

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  9. Those illusive perfect active verbs. Hmm...they are constantly being overhauled in my stories. I can't stand the same two verbs near each other. It makes it too repetitive, and there is always that perfect one I have to search for.

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  10. That verb search sounds very familiar, Ciara :)

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  11. I never thought about it that way, but what a great analogy! It will also be a comfort next time I'm agonizing over verb choice - I'll just remember that I'm searching for baby bear. In Name Only sounds very exciting. Have added it to my book list!

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    1. I'm glad the Three Bears work for you, Tammy. Thanks for adding In Name Only to your book list :)

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  12. Love, love, LOVE your essay on verbs, Carol. So clever! Baby Bear verbs. I wrote it down. Wonderful sustained metaphor for the way to write action right.

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  13. Thanks, Clara. I'm happy to see you here :)

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  14. Thanks to all my friends who visited and left comments for Carol. You are the best!
    Donna

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    1. It's been fun here, Donna. I enjoyed meeting some new friends along with a few familiar faces. Thanks for hosting me.

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  15. I'd like to think I'm using "just right" verbs when I write. Sometimes I'm sure I get a bit hasty though when I'm writing.


    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Arlee, I think we all do. I'm usually still picking over words on the last draft.

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  16. Donna and Carol: Thanks for the post. Carol--I see an e-book in your future for writers everywhere, maybe even kids--What kind of verbs do you use? Try these three bears on for size. . . :) Good luck with your book. Sounds interesting.

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    1. Thanks, Margo. Nice to meet you. Don't hold your breath waiting for a verb book from me - too many characters are competing for space in my head right now :)

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  17. Hi, Donna & Carol,

    Good advice, Carol. When we're editing and don't have the right word, it niggles until we get it just right.

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    1. Sometimes I can't believe how much time I spend search for "the" word :) Thanks for stopping by, Joy.

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  18. Love "word" posts with great tips. Makes us think about something we take for granted. Look forward to reading your book!

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