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On verbs: Soak in the action

by Sue Brown-Moore
Emotional verbs: Line editing lessons by Sue Brown-Moore, The Romance Editor

Emotion isn’t just conveyed, it is experienced. Powerful prose sweeps readers away.

Read on for your two-minute boost of line editing insight! Luxuriate in the beauty of verbs with depth.

Are your verbs steeped in emotion?

From Bombshell by CD Reiss

Copyright © 2017 CD Reiss

“Daddy?” Nicole’s voice came from the other side of the door. “Are you okay? Really?”
“He’s fine!”
“She’s killing me!”
Cara cracked a smile. It was a gorgeous sight.
“Hey! Don’t kill Daddy!” Nicole wasn’t kidding. Her voice was soaked in terror.
We looked at each other. Right. Death should be off the table. I leaned for the door and swung it open. Nicole trotted in with a little drawing pad in one hand and a pencil in the other. She nearly impaled me with it as she hopped onto my lap and turned to face Cara. From my vantage point I could see her point the pencil at her nanny. I had to imagine her tough little face.
“Don’t. Kill. Daddy.”
“I won’t.” She split the paper off the back of a Band-Aid and stuck it on me. “But if he keeps it up, I might have to hurt him just a little.”
“Okay,” Nicole agreed.
“Okay?” I objected. My dad had always complained there was a female conspiracy in the house, and I started to think he might be right. As if she wanted to confirm the conspiracy, Nicole turned to face me, practically kneeing me in the groin. Even though she was on my lap she waved her fingers at me to get me closer. She whispered in my ear. “I like Miss Cara.”

Let’s look at the first bolded verb above

Her voice was soaked in terror.

The verb soaked conveys overflow, heavy, dank. Those are powerful implications that shore up the emotional cast of this statement. This child is not just upset, she’s in a dark place psychologically, and she can’t wring out her fear of loss.

Some alternate, less optimal phrasings might use weaker verbs or rely on adverbs to achieve a similar effect. For example, the text might instead say:

“Don’t kill Daddy!” she said fearfully.

  • Classic telling rather than showing. Don’t tell us she’s afraid, show us!

Her voice was heavy with fear.

  • This version isn’t bad, but it lacks the elegance of the original phrasing.

Her voice shook with terror.

  • That one’s pretty good, but it doesn’t delve quite as deeply on a psychological level. It also implies a rhythmic change in the dialogue (“voice shook”) that differs from the auditory imagining of a voice “soaked in terror”.

#BombshellVerbs is a collection of quickie writing tips inspired by my review read of CD Reiss’s Bombshell. The bombshell in this romance is the secret baby—well, toddler—but the real draw is the excellent story craft of CD Reiss. Click the #BombshellVerbs tag below to see the full series.

[bctt tweet=”Powerful prose is an experience. Click for a 2-minute lesson in infusing your words with emotion #StorysmithMe”]


I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave me a comment after the book info below.

About the book: Bombshell by CD Reiss

On verbs: Soak in the actionBombshell by CD Reiss
Published by Montlake Romance on May 1st 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 364
Add it to your To Read shelf: Goodreads
Buy or reserve your copy online at*: Amazon (Kindle)

Hollywood bad boy Brad Sinclair always gets his way, whether it's the role he wants or the bikini-clad model he has to have. But when a bombshell gets dropped in his lap in the form of a dimpled five-year-old from a forgotten relationship, he knows his life is about to change forever.
Cara DuMont isn't exactly thrilled when she gets assigned to be the nanny for the latest box-office king. She has one rule: no celebrity fathers, especially single ones with devilish good looks and rock-hard abs.
But as soon as Cara meets Brad and his adorable little girl, she knows she's in for a world of trouble. Because there's something about the way Brad looks at her that makes her believe that some rules are meant to be broken...

*This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

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