Jeanne: Verbalizing My Story

Over the years, I’ve attended several workshops by Damon Suede. Although he has fallen into disfavor with the romance writing crowd, I’m still a fan of his teachings. (I don’t believe in canceling people. People screw up. Bigger people forgive them.)

One of the most useful things I picked up from these workshops was Suede’s focus on verbs. In teaching both about author branding and about fiction writing, he encouraged students, when describing things, to think in terms of verbs rather than adjectives or nouns.

Suede uses Pride and Prejudice as an example. He says Mr. Darcy preserves (i.e. he tries to preserve his estate and way of life) while Lizzie Bennet provokes (i.e. she needles Darcy and the other characters). Suede says if you set up your romance such that your main characters’ verbs are in direct conflict, it makes your job as an author a lot easier.

I’m very close to a first draft of my work-in-progress. I know how it ends (always a good thing, especially when you’re 50 pages or so from the finish) and I understand the characters (also a good spot to be in this close to the end), but my scenes weren’t all working. Many felt like rehashes of information the reader already knew.

My problem is that, while I feel like I know the characters, I still can’t clearly define their flaws. I know that Lilith has an issue with forgiving. She can’t forgive Samael for dumping her and she’s convinced that God will never forgive her for abandoning her first husband. Sam is the Demon of Pride, which makes his flaw pretty clear. But when I tried to think about how these issues motivated the characters, how the flaws impacted their behavior in any given situation, things got a lot fuzzier.

So I decided to try Suede’s suggestion: Think in terms of verbs that describe these characters’ flaws.

Lilith can’t forgive. Verbs that describe unforgiving behavior include:

  • Resents
  • Retaliates
  • Reproaches
  • Blames
  • Shames
  • Criticizes
  • Punishes
  • Mistreats

Sam is proud. Verbs that describe proud behavior include:

  • Peacocks
  • Patronizes
  • Pontificates
  • Disregards
  • Deflects
  • Defends
  • Ignores
  • Competes

(Side note: Suede suggests you sort your list in ascending order of escalation. Then write your manuscript, transitioning up that ladder, to ensure that your character’s behavior escalates. I haven’t sorted these in any order.)

What I’m going to do next is just go back and rewrite the scenes that aren’t working (including the one at the end that I’m stuck on), drawing from the behaviors listed above.

I’ll report back next week to let you know how it went.

6 thoughts on “Jeanne: Verbalizing My Story

  1. I attended Damon’s workshop on verbs and it was super-helpful. Of course, it helps that all of my books ARE verbs…His Lady to Protect/Honor/Defend/Desire/Love. So finding the verb for the hero is a piece of cake. It’s a bit harder for my heroine, especially when they all sort of fall into the “trust” category. Trust can’t be the only verb for my heroines. As I work through my story, I’ll need to give this some thought, because I’m sort of getting suck on repeat for the ladies, which I don’t want.

      • Actually, I came up with a verb for Catie pretty quickly: Rescue. She’s both trying to rescue (save) her baby, as well as salvage her reputation, and regain some faith in herself. Verbs I can use include extricate, free, keep, liberate, preserve, protect, recapture, recover, release, retrieve, salvage…among others. I need to dig deeper, but this is very helpful!

  2. I find verbs to be very powerful and also fun. “Peacocks,” for example. I hadn’t thought of that word as a verb for a long time and it brought a smile to my face when I read it just now in your list. Good luck with your scenes! And congratulations on your progress. Sounds like you’re making great headway.

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