ACTION WORDS! An Article by Mary Deal

Action Words

by

Mary Deal

When you write your first draft, perhaps you simply write whatever comes out just to get the ideas onto the page. You know you’ll go back time and time again to get it polished just right. Maybe you polish your sentences or paragraphs before going onto the next one. Then, after all your editing, you feel something is still lacking. Maybe it’s the way you phrase the action. Maybe it’s a simple matter like your choice of words.

To help you make your prose as descriptive as possible without sounding flowery, read your composition again and look for specific words that could be replaced with descriptive VERBS that zero in on the exact action taking place.

I’m no stranger to getting the first word out that comes to mind and then needing to go back and clean up my grammar. Here are some samples from the novel I’m presently writing. I first wrote this:

Afterward, she went on her way.

If you write a sentence like this, ask yourself, How did she go? Instead of went describe her movements or gait:

Afterward, she sauntered away.

Afterward, she slipped away

Read this phrase:

Danced across the floor

Danced is a descriptive word, but it’s also a little common and could refer to many, many ways of dancing. How about…

Did a two-step across the floor

Waltzed across the floor

And this:

She felt around the floor of the car, trying to find the cell phone

Felt is also quite common.

She groped around the seat and on the floor of the car…

She slid her hand between the seats

Although a lot of emotion can be stirred just reading certain words they, too, can be made more descriptive. Replace this:

The thought of dying came to mind.

…with something like this:

The thought of bleeding to death came to mind

The thought of succumbing to coma, never to wake again, came to mind.

The above has two words to watch. We could have used:

The thought of slipping into a coma… instead, succumbing is more dramatic than gently slipping into a coma. Slipping hints at the character gently fading. Succumbing tells us she would put up a gallant fight to stay alive until, perhaps, more powerful forces overtook her. It’s more dramatic.

Here’s another sentence with two words:

The fireman holding up her head managed to get his upper body through the open windshield space.

More exciting:

The fireman supporting her head managed to squeeze his upper body through the open windshield space.

All of the words replaced above, and many, many more, are common words. The actions need to be exactly defined, made more exciting with better, more descriptive verbs and adverbs if your grammar is to stand out.

Your prose must sing and dance off the page. Anytime you describe what a character does, always check to see if a more descriptive word might apply. Using words that better show the exact actions that your character performs helps your reader become the character. That’s exactly what great prose does.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

About Mike Angley

Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force in 2007 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He held 13 different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Air Force Squadrons and a Wing. He is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. In his last assignment, he was Commander of OSI Region 8 with responsibility for all of Air Force Space Command. He’s fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”
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