• Joe strode to the house.
Verbs are action words and are key to showing rather than telling. Verbs themselves can be active or passive, as you can see from the examples above. Joe walked is pretty mundane. It’s not wrong, but you can show his state of mind by using a strong, active verb, such as strode, stomped, loped, or stumbled. You can also describe the character with a verb, such as Joe limped.
Watch verb “helpers”, such as the “to be” form. Joe was walking. Again, it is not wrong, but it is more passive than even the simple Joe walked.
The voice of a verb tells whether the subject of the sentence performs the action (active or strong) or is acted upon (passive or weak.)
• Joe was praised by Glen. (passive)
• Glen praised Joe. (active)
The passive voice can be used when the actor is unknown or is less important than the object of the action.
• Participants in the survey were asked about their changes in political affiliation. (OK, because “who” is asking is unknown.)
• I was surprised by the teacher's lack of sympathy. (In this case it could be that the teacher is less important than the subject’s surprise. Or it could be re-written as: The teacher’s lack of sympathy surprised me.)
Keep your verb tense consistent.
• Not: Immediately after Booth shot Lincoln, Major Rathbone threw himself upon the assassin. (Verbs are past tense) But Booth pulls a knife and plunges it into the major’s arm. (Verbs change to present tense. It should be pulled and plunged in the second sentence.)
I could go on for pages and pages about all the ins and outs of verb usage, but will leave you with the advice to pick strong, active verbs that “show” rather than “tell.”
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.