Friday, May 22, 2009

weekly writing coach: activating verbs

Writers often find it's tough to compete with film and television--after all, words just don't have the advantages of the visual. But there's one writing fix that offers hope: using active verbs. And it was a New Yorker article by David Denby about Victor Fleming, Hollywood director of both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz that reminded me. Both films celebrate their 70th anniversaries this year, and Denby described them with paragraphs full of active verbs that brought me to a halt in my reading. Here's his description of the action-packed, pratfall vaudeville style of the actors playing Dorothy's friends:
When Lahr lands on his rump, his legs shoot up like a moving swing suddenly emptied of its child. Bolger does flailing, rubber-legged collapses and recoveries--he teases the ground, engaging it and then taking off from it. And Haley, in his rusting metal case, leans perilously, like a telephone pole in a storm.
And when he captures Vivien Leigh's magnetic facial expressions in GWTW, he writes:
As the small mouth puckers, the lynx-eyed glance, with head slightly turned, appears to see around corners.
Taut stuff, and a good reminder to edit and craft your prose with an emphasis on active verbs when you're capturing visual, moving scenes or situations.

Related posts: An exercise in excising passive-agressive verbs

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