Wednesday, February 19, 2014

THE Importance of Old Teachers, & Free Exercise Idea Inspired by Him. . . “Make Your Verbs Sweat!!”

I am now working on a very arduous project that has kept me from keeping in touch with readers, writers, and teachers.

Currently, it’s a 35-page, everything-but-the-lamppost unit on characterization, including fiction writing exercises, identifying and analyzing the differences between direct and indirect characterization, a definition overview on all character types (including foil, doppelganger, sidekick, flat and round, etc.), with quizzes that are easy, and then more challenging for different levels of students, plus writing beyond the stock character, analyzing characterization in a short fiction piece……ARGH.

I suppose you understand why it’s taken so long for me to get back to writing?

One of the things I am including is “The Rules of Showing versus Telling” which has some things in it that frankly go beyond fiction and push all writers to be better, stronger writers. Period.

ONE. Use active verbs, and if at all possible, precise verbs.

TWO. AVOID adverbs more often than not.

THREE. Stay away from unnecessary words. Really, truly, I mean it. Are you getting to the point where you sort of know what I mean? (Ha).

Sure, this is a characterization unit. But quickly, you see how important style, economy and strong sentence structure is to the whole, regardless of whether you are writing in fiction, or an analytic essay about characterization. Which brings me to. . .


One in particular. As a teacher, I lament that students will forget me, or toss me into the garbage heap of their teen memories. Sure, on occasion a few find me and say thank you. I delight in knowing that the work I performed mattered. It doesn’t happen all the time, though. I loved English, and one of my teachers always said, “Make your verbs sweat!”

It was because of him that I developed a love of English, and in particular, of words, and of language.

Why say walked? When you can:

  • Amble,
  • shuffle,
  • shamble,
  • meander,
  • hot-foot it,
  • skip,
  • march,
  • proceed,
  • hoof it
  • made a beeline for
  • minced
  • waddled
  • and more?

And while we are talking about VERBS, why not also discuss ADVERBS? Why do we “say morosely” or “say accusingly”? Even WE are guilty of this. Let alone our students. What my teacher Mr. Prior gave me, was a love of words though perhaps not the mind of an editor. Years ago, we wrote short themes and were meant to use adjectives and colorful language, including adverbs. Instead of ANY type of “say” with an adverb after it, why not use a STRONGER VERB. As Mr. Prior said, “Make your Verbs Sweat!”

Instead of Say, feel free to choose of these appropriate verbs:

  • accused
  • inquired
  • infer
  • pronounce
  • announce
  • respond
  • reply
  • reveal
  • whisper
  • breathe
  • promise
  • retort
  • assert
  • cry
  • and MORE

I find that it is heartening and validating that such simple exercises exist to improve writing.


1. Simply provide a verb as above, or substitute out another one, such as: try, go, or make.

2. 3. Allow students to try their hand at writing out acceptable substitutes on their own, and then, with a thesaurus.

4. Students will write the best, most active sentences they can. Your choice how many they write. Perhaps five sentences per verb, each using a different verb of their choice.

On a FINAL note, I think it is a hopeful thought indeed that all of us, I’m sure, have a fond recollection of an old, dear teacher that at least in part, makes us who we are today. If you have any heartwarming stories, we’d all be delighted to hear them.


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