Verb Strings

We recently talked about taking our verbs into a gym, to make them stronger, more descriptive. Today, we’re going to look at verb strings.

Just what is a verb string you ask?

Quite simply, a verb string is when an author decides that one very, or at the most two, just aren’t enough to describe the action in a sentence. I’ve noticed quite a few authors are stringing together five, ten, even (occasionally) twenty verbs in a row to make their point in a single sentence. Some of these verbs are synonyms of the original verb while others seem to have no relationship with the ongoing action.

Needless to say, but I feel I must anyway, the reader has become totally lost when they finish that sentence. Some readers will go back to the beginning and attempt to parse out what the author is allegedly showing them but most will close the book and give up. A few might even write a review that will scare off other potential readers.

In other words, decide on the action and keep it simple. Don’t string an excessive number of verbs together. You’re weakening your main verb and losing your reader. If you’ve hired a blogger to review your book, you are about to receive a review that will be less than complimentary.

There are a few authors who will argue my point, explaining that the need is there. Quite frankly, I don’t see the need to modify a verb with half a dozen or more other verbs in order to point out what kind of action is happening. The only thing I feel is utter confusion.

Case in point: She started to walk, skip, hop, jump, run, twirl, grasp the railing, and race up the stairs, all in an effort to grab, catch, hang onto, speak with, and talk to her guy.

Breathless yet? Confused? I am and I wrote that ilk. Even worse, some verb strings I’ve read jump around so much that you’re wondering if the character is interacting with people, experiencing a tragedy, or observing a scene—or a combination of all three.

Our verbs carry the action of the story. We must, in all cases, avoid modifying them. This also means don’t string together many to show various actions. They don’t and can’t happen at once.

What am I saying?

We all know about the importance of tension in our stories. We must keep the reader interested. That doesn’t necessarily mean those extreme climax scenes where the action never seems to stop. I’m referring to the full book, where you are enticing your reader to move forward and become invested in the story.

So, for those of you who still think verb strings will entice a reader into the story, you need to do one little thing to see if you’re right…

Ask a regular reader to look over your crafted scene, watch them while they attempt to get through a verb string, and then ask their honest, no holds barred opinion.

I hope you’re ready to hear that they hate it, once they get past the “can I really insult this person and still remain friendly with them” attitude. Make sure you accept the advice well, even if you’re told the whole scene doesn’t make a lick of sense. Then, resign yourself to doing some serious editing before you move on.


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