05 April 2006

meme: your first ten verbs

Back in college (a point in time which more and more often these days is starting to feel like 'When dinosaurs ruled the Earth...") I took some creative writing courses. Some people hated them—the vicious bloodletting every Monday night as a new pair of people would bring in stories for everyone ELSE in the group to tear apart like sharks in a herd of slow-swimming seals was a bit too intense for some members of the purple prose brigade—but I absolutely loved every soul-crushing moment.

And I also learned some stuff.

One of the cool exercises we tried was simple yet effective: the prof told us to bring in our last submitted piece. Then, in class he had us read the first ten verbs in the piece, and he wrote them down on the board under each of our names. What was amazing was to see—to plainly unmistakably see—just how passive and tentative some people were, and just how much action and power and movement and life other people were putting into their stories.

I was reminded of this exercise by a semi-related post by someone in a private office over at Zoetrope. That writer—a proven pro who knows what he's talking about—was talking about finding a verb to define the scene as a whole, and then checking to see if the scenes were properly active and forceful. While that's a valid and potentially valid exercise, it sounds like work, and I am allergic to work. (Yes, I have a note from a doctor. Bite me.)

So I decided just to start my own damned meme:
What are the first ten verbs in whatever project you are now or were most recently writing?

The exercise is intended to help you more clearly notice when your writing is passive and lackluster. In most cases (there are always exceptions) it's usually best to start strong and maintain momentum. If you look up and realize that you have a lot of "is" and "waits" and "sits" and "lays" as opening verbs, you might wanna give your opening a kick in the pants. Maybe.

My current open project is a period drama about a WW2 flyer over Stalingrad. Here are my first ten verbs from that piece:
1. roars
2. rises 

3. falls 

4. climbs 

5. watches 

6. strolls 

7. studies 

8. nods 

9. screams 

10. stirs

Overall, not as bad as I was afraid it might be when I first decided to try this goofy trick.

What about you?

Just for the sake of crass self-promotion, I'm tagging three people to specifically answer this and carry the meme out to the scribosphere:

Warren ("The Screenwriting Life")
Scott ("Alligators In A Helicopter")
Adam ("One Slack Martian")

active voice B


Adam Renfro said...

"Thanks" for the homework.

I had a similar exercise in college. It was actually fairly useful. In addition to the verbs, we also had to list the first word of each sentence, to see if we began every sentence with "he" or "there" or whatever. We also listed the number of words in each sentence, to see if there was a pattern like 10, 10, 11, 12, 10 sort of thing

As you mention, this was done to study our rhythm and sentence variety.

I found it useful in analyzing prose writing. Never thought of using it to look at my script. (Slow learner.)

okay, off to do my blog homework . . . .

Webs said...

Pssst: http://101squadron.com/2006/04/ten-verbs-ensemble-and-hello-to-brett.html

Neal Romanek said...

That is some very fine meme-age. I think I myself will abscond with this meme-itude and meme the heck out of it myself.

Even without the meme angle, it's a fine exercise.