To Verb

by John Caruso

When I’m feeling a bit playful-or when I’m feeling stuck-I like to pull out my notebook and jot down a dozen or so nouns. These have to be “hard” nouns, not words that can work as nouns or verbs such as “paint,” “race,” “touch,” or “table.” (This in itself is an interesting exercise because it’s not quite as easy as it seems.) A sampling from a recent list included: pumpkin, cabinet, purple, and thesaurus.

Now take your knowledge of the words’ “noun-ness” and heave it out the window. For the rest of the exercise, you now have a list of VERBS. Use them as such. Think about how your words can be used to express specific actions, how they can shade a sentence with the perfect nuance of meaning.

For example, using the list above, you might come up with the following:

–After the annual ritual of holiday overindulgence, Maxwell and I pumpkined on the couch. –The debate had splintered into three or four disparate arguments. Through it all, Loraine remained quiet, plucking pertinent lies from the cacophony and cabineting them away for future use. –Picking blueberries roused Marie’s memories of childhood. The fruit purpled her fingers, leaving her a physical reminder of less complicated times.

This week, collect interesting nouns. During one of your writing sessions, verb them and write sentences. Does it feel natural? Do your sentences pop from the page? Do you feel uncomfortable? Can you see specific instances in your work that may benefit from interesting verbs?

Of course, this nifty technique, like all things clever and crafty, can be overused. I don’t believe our readers would be too keen on passage after passage of smart alecks who “thesaurus” their way out of an argument or existential whiners who “taffy” their emotions. But “verbing” nouns can help us avoid the am-is-are-was-were-be-being-been quagmires that cripple otherwise strong writing. By exploring interesting, fresh ways to express our thoughts, we learn to stretch our powers and have fun along the way.

© 2003 by John Caruso

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