Thursday, August 26, 2010

SWAT Boot Camp -- Sniper Verb Training : TARGET "And"

By C.L. Phillips


Well novelist, I see you are back for another SWAT Boot Camp session with Sergeant Wordslayer. Remember what SWAT means? Stop Withering Away Tension. Now drop and give me five verbs as a warm up. Quick, pick up a pencil. What? You don't have a pencil? Then write it in blood. After all, you are a mystery novelist, aren't you. Hey, you there in the back, Cozy Writer, this means you too.

Five verbs. Fast. Top of Mind. Quickly. Five More. Don't you dare use any form of "to be", do you hear me? (This is where you scream at the top of your lungs, YES, Sergeant Wordslayer.) Good.

That wasn't too tough was it? Now, pull out your current work in progress. Today, we're going to Whip that WIP in shape with a little Sniper Verb Training. Grab a chapter or ten pages. Get out your pencil. Quickly now, go through the pages and circle all the verbs. VERBS ONLY LADIES and GENTLEMEN.

Don't make me wait, get going.


Ok, that was the easy part. Now, go back and put a square box around all the ANDs, ands, and ands. You get my point right?

Now, I want you to reach inside your brain and pet that tiny little ego of yours. Remind yourself that only the truly gifted novelists are willing to slay their own words. Repeat after me, "I'm special. I'm a great writer except when I choose weak, sniveling, spineless verbs." Set fire to a recipe card or something. It's time for war.

Rewrite every sentence with circles and squares. That's right. None of this "He looked at his watch and reached for the phone." Or, "He turned to his left and grabbed the box of Cheerios and sat down at the breakfast table."

Why are we SNIPER KILLING these sentences? Because in most cases you are saying what you see, as if it were in a movie. Not what you mean. Not what builds tension. Unless you are using AND to separate a list of nouns, you must seriously consider how "and" neuters tension in your sentence.

Do you agree? You can argue with Sargeant Wordslayer...but beware, if you are wrong, you will have to submit a list of twenty five totally awesome verbs, which you will subsequently inject into your WIP.

Don't believe me? Pick up a best selling author's book and highlight all the ANDS in the first ten pages. I challenge you to find more than five.

C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787


Linda Leszczuk said...

Okay, you got me. I'm going back to my WIP and check for ands. Ack! There was one, right there!

Polly said...

Excellent post, C.L. I'm grabbing my pencil now.

Ramona said...

I wonder what Sergeant Wordslayer would have to say about the use of "and then."

*ducks for cover*

Julie Hennrikus said...

The "and" killer. May your legend live on!

Joyce said...

I love this post! Off to do some rewriting...

CPatLarge said... I thought I was almost done editing :-/

E. B. Davis said...

I'm reading a Charlaine Harris (2 on the best-seller list right now). The first page has 4 "ands" in it. This doesn't discount your point. Carlaine can probably write anything she wants to at this point in her career!

Dawn said...

"Set fire to a recipe card or something." That is great! I almost spit my drink all over my screen.

I am checking my WIP. Glad Sgt. Wordslayer can't see me or I am sure I would be doing some serious push ups. NO MORE WIMPY VERB! Sir, yes, Sir. *Saluting*