Active Verbs

Pursue active verbs in your writing.

Pursue active verbs in your writing.

Active verbs slice to the heart of a sentence’s meaning, inject action, make prose dance with precise control. Active verbs cajole, captivate, charm, and compel. They lend the muscularity of manual labor, a scapel’s taxonomic precision, and the graceful sway and bob and glide and jump of a dance.

Seek out active verbs, make them your writerly quest. Enlist them in your cause and they’ll help explain a story’s nuances to a reader. Write them down on your shirt cuffs and use them to goad your sentences into performance, or suck on them in your sleep until each dream is a single verb: swim and replenish and grip.

Use verbs, but treat them kindly. Ride them hard but with the respect they deserve. You will find they reciprocate, and verbs will collect in your pockets like marvelous, multi-colored pebbles you can use to build your story.

Writing exercise: Find three verbs concerned with a particular profession and use them in a sentence that never mentions that profession or its tools. Then think about how that sentence might become a title. Then pick your favorite verb and embroider it on your pillow. Okay, I’m kidding about that last. But think about verbs, let them steep tea-strong in your mind, like catfish in the shadows of a riverbank, capable of flicking their tail and vanishing, leaving only a dark trace.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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