Verbs, Beautiful Verbs: The Core of Any Sentence

verbs are the meat of a sentenceOk, I admit it; I’m a word geek. I love words. I love the way they come together and combine to create images, the pictures they paint. My father was an artist and I’m sad to say I did not inherit his gift for drawing and painting, but I did learn to paint with words.

My pallet is alive with colors. Nouns are my white, the basic foundations of all sentences whether subjects, objects, or extraneous things thrown in to widen the base. Adverbs are black, adding dark contrast, and must be used sparingly. Adjectives are purple where a little goes a long way, and too much simply obliterates the subtler shades. Conjunctions and prepositions are the primary colors, tossed in here and there to combine with the other words, to create the final hues and tones.

But verbs … Verbs shimmer like a rainbow. They can be dull, brown, non-descript, or they can be radiant and glowing, changing color like a hummingbird that flits in and out of the sunlight. Verbs can drive a sentence headlong, or cradle it in a gloved hand. Verbs are the very core of the sentence.

This was all brought back to me in the most wonderful way: reading — of course — a new book. A friend had told me about House of Rain by Craig Childs. The subtitle reads: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest, and it is a travelogue of sorts detailing Childs’ journey in the footsteps of the Anasazi. I was actually expecting a rather dry treatment of archaeology and was absolutely enchanted when I found writing in its most delicate and image-studded form.  Here are a handful of the colorful gems he tosses down as he goes, leaving them to wink and glitter in the dust behind him.

Sage folded and recoiled in the wind.

As the sun set, I could not help staring directly at it, the remaining half circle burning into my eyes, an apricot welding itself onto the earth.

Cold water burped up from beneath my feet.

The ceiling was made of wooden beams corbelled across each other, and they dripped with the dark syrup of rodent urine.

After a few hundred years little if anything was left on the surface, the wind having sewn the earth back together, closing over the wound of humanity.

Sycamore trees burst into maniacal white branches crawling all over the sky.

Sunrise was falling through holes in the forest, long dashes of light touching the ground.

Black fists of smoke wrenched up from orange fronts of flame…

Bedrock appeared from under the sand, whales of reddish stone barely breaching the surface.

I found myself reading with two minds: with one, I followed the story, but with the other, I paid explicit attention to his use of words, and verbs especially. As a writer, I delighted in this treasure trove of literary imagery. It’s very much like prowling a jewelry store, my eyes sliding across the glass-fronted cases until they catch on a pale shimmer of amethyst, noticing without seeing the hundreds of ordinary rings until one unique creation of precious metal and stone stops me in my tracks. Finding that one sublime melding of color and shape amid the dross of the ordinary gives a sense not only of profound appreciation but also of satisfaction for having noticed it.

Reading writing like this inspires me; it calls to me to put my own best efforts down on paper. I know that if someone else can write with such heartbreaking delicacy, I can, too. It inspires me to handle my sentences with great care, most especially my verbs. They can mire a sentence in mediocrity or they can lift it like a song. Choose wisely.

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

17 thoughts on “Verbs, Beautiful Verbs: The Core of Any Sentence”

  1. Reading the work of someone who surprises me with a fresh way to put words together always inspires me to improve my own writing. I think that’s what makes reading so important. I do pay attention to my verbs when I write, especially trying to make sure i don’t repeat the same ones too often.

    1. That’s exactly it, Yvonne. This kind of writing awes me and propels me forward. It exists on a separate level than 99% of what I read. And it makes me hungry for more, both to read and to write.

  2. Beautifully expressed, Melissa. Thank you. A timely reminder to us all to choose our words carefully and study each sentence until it says exactly what it needs to say.

    1. That’s if, Vicky. Why choose a pedantic word that creeps along on the ground when you can choose a divine word that soars to the heavens? I think we sometimes forget how much power there is in words. We are fortunate to be able to wield them.

    1. Thank you, Lilian. If you really want to be inspired and if the topic is anywhere near your milieu, read the book. It’s like sitting down with a luscious box of chocolates. Yummy!

  3. These are awesome examples, Melissa. What a great find! And you come pretty close to poetry yourself, ma’am, when you assign colors to the parts of speech. Nice job. 🙂

  4. What a brilliant article! I learned more about the structure of language from this than I ever learned at school or from struggling to pot sentences together. Now I’m going to print it off and read it again each time I sit down to start a new piece of writing. Thanks, Melissa.

    1. Thanks, Ian. I’m glad this exercise has been as exciting for others as it was for me. Only writers can get this excited about verbs. Opens up all sorts of possibilities, doesn’t it?

  5. An excellent article, Melissa, thoughtfully articulated, beautifully expressed, and I certainly agree with Lynne about the poetic nature of your pros. Oh, and you’ve sold me on House of Rain.

  6. It’s funny but as I read your post I kept thinking that /this/ is why writers have to read. No creative writing class can take the place of a good book, lovingly written.

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