Story Verbing Part 2

Greetings, Story Empire mavens! Today’s post is the second half of Story Verbing. If you missed Part 1, find it here: We’ll build on some of the examples in the first part. Sure, choosing the best verbs sounds simple, but you might be impressed with the possibilities. Smash that comment button and let me know what’s working or not with my posts. Remember to share and spread the word about Story Empire and this fine group of authors working to help you put out your best possible stories!

Now that we are avoiding UPOVRs (Unnecessary Point-of-View Reminders), using the active voice, avoiding BE verbs, and choosing action verbs, it’s time to:

Add Personality

Obvious when describing a sentient being, the art of adding personality proves more challenging with objects and concepts. However, carefully chosen personality-suggesting verbs substantially enhance the vividness of objects and their relationship to the setting, characters, and/or narrator. This often proves true even when describing concepts (evil, ambition, endurance, motherhood) and actions (kissing, conspiring, hating, melting). To infuse something non-human with a complex personality is to anthropomorphize, but writers often find benefits in adding mere hints of personality without taking their descriptions that far.

Consider the pot-belly stove that was in the corner of the cabin. Saying it stood there converted the description to the active voice and used a mild action verb, but it still lacked “attitude.” Writing that the pot-belly stove squatted in the corner gives it a bit of personality that enhances the mental image readers draw. To emphasize that the cabin is cold and that this stove is persevering until hunters arrive to fire it and warm the cabin, a clever writer might choose to say the stove hunkered down in the cold cabin corner. Allowing objects to capture the mood of relevant characters indirectly adds description to the entire scene and those who are in it. Simply writing that a sleepy character making coffee noticed that there was an empty cup on the counter squanders an opportunity to reflect the mood. Consider: On the counter, a sleepy cup yawned in anticipation of its morning coffee. Sure, somebody seeking answers in an old, unused library might discover there was an old set of encyclopedias, but you can render that more vividly any number of ways, including: A dusty old set of encyclopedias lined the shelf, still eager to help solve mysteries. Yes, a long sunflower can towerover the surrounding blooms,but with attitude it can hang its big, sad-faced head, embarrassed to stand out as tallest kid in the flower bed.

ADD DESCRIPTION EXTRAS: Well-chosen verbs can often be augmented by additional words. The teakettle that whistles can whistle for attention. Opting to have the BBQ grill flames tongue or lick the burgers opens the possibility they might tongue the burgers and lap at the drippings. The pot-belly stove might hide in the corner, careful to avoid drawing attention to itself.

Convert from Literal Description to Metaphor

Simple similes and metaphors can add minor dimension to a description. The pot-belly stove with a history of overheating might refuse to allow its rusty door to open, leery of the inevitable heartburn that will keep it up all night. Sometimes better yet, creative use of description verbs can lead to ideas for infusing larger elements of a story—even the entire story—with metaphoric meaning. For example, if the hero and his needers are locked in the dungeon with a lit fire pit outside the cell’s bars to keep them somewhat warm, There was a fire in the pit can be improved by action verbs that add personality, in this case to the fire: danced, wriggled, illuminated, or reassured with warmth and light. Those can inspire ideas for minor metaphor: conjured shadows along the crevices, devoured the darkness, or painted the scene in shifting hues…. Then the author might consider a fuller metaphor, such as comparing how the fire is constrained by the pit just as the prisoners are constrained by their bars: The fire raged against its restraints, flaring up, gathering its strength, reaching for freedom, showering the scene with sparks of determination and courage….

Enhance Point-of-View

In nearly all cases, the choice of descriptive verbs should respect the POV character’s outlook. An enraged man en route to exact revenge for the killing of his friend does not offer the appropriate POV for describing birds as pirouetting as they dance air-ballet against a blue-backdropped sky. A trail to the campsite might plainly extend or run through the woods; grow more active as it wends or stretches; rise to the level of metaphor by racing ahead of developers or slithering through the trees, at home in the woods; but better reflect the POV character’s attitude with even more deliberate choices. An eager camper might see it beckon or invite. A naturalist might see it scar the old-growth forest. A hunter might see it as a spoor tracking its way toward prey. The campsite tent can plainly sit there; grow more active as it pitches, stretches, lounges, or even waits; or rise to metaphor by straining against its anchors or welcoming weary hikers with 4-star critter-free accommodations; and/or reflect the POV mood by defying the encroaching rainstorm or pretending to rough it—or because it is leak-prone: conspiring to drench unwary campers.


The following descriptive paragraph of a derelict Detroit factory lacks creative use of these techniques:

Another unemployed assembler is trying to enter for one last look. The door is rusty. The hinges make noise when he goes inside. The windows are busted out. He can see abandoned homes and boarded-up shops through them. Startled pigeons are flying around in the bright shafts of sunlight. The empty hooks are still hanging from the conveyor. Paint chips and shards of glass are all over the floor. He goes to the plating line and sees the porcelain immersion tanks, now empty. Their copper plumbing had been taken by trespassers. There is a water drip from the leaky roof in the stamping room. Weeds and saplings are using it to grow up through cracks in the concrete floor. The foreman’s overlook is still up there, but it is not watching anything now. This factory in what used to be a working-class neighborhood is about dead.

Your creativity and the techniques described above can transform this bland paragraph into a more interesting description. Here is but one of many possible ways:

The rusty door resists entry, its groaning hinges reluctantly admitting another unemployed assembler for one last look. Busted-out windows frame poignant images of abandoned homes and boarded-up shops. Shafts of bright sunlight stab the gloomy interior, spotlighting a flurry of startled pigeons. Suspended conveyor hooks frozen in death throes still reach out, desperate for new parts to grasp and hurry along. Like morning-after proof of better times, paint-chip and glass-shard confetti litters the floor. Porcelain immersion tanks stud the plating line, thirsting for another chance to swish and spit, unaware that trespassers had long ago scavenged their copper plumbing. A steady drip echoes through the stamping room, weepy roof tears watering weeds and saplings earnestly shouldering their way up through cracks in the concrete floor. The foreman’s overlook never stops supervising the scene, but now it stares blankly, confused by the sudden drop in productivity. Once the heart of a thriving working-class neighborhood, another Detroit factory quietly expires, too far gone too revive.

This is serious writing, but it works best if you have fun with it. Don’t censor yourself at first. Stretch and try ideas even if they seem a bit “out there” at first. You’ll surprise yourself, and wind up keeping what works best! Thanks for your time, support, comments, and sharing—and remember to spread the word about Story Empire!

69 thoughts on “Story Verbing Part 2

    • Thank you, Samara. When English is the first language, a lot of writers tend to choose the verbs they normally use when they talk. You have the advantage of already thinking through your word choices. Thanks for the feedback. I hope to see you back next month, and checking all the other Story Empire posts in the meantime. Good luck with your writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. These are such great examples, Stephen, and take mundane passive writing into an exciting active voice that paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. I find that I make the best use of this technique when I read through my first draft. If a scene simply lays there, I know it needs work. Thank you for the great tips and suggestions! Good stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Denise. I’ve notice you like to play with verbs a bit, too. It’s all fun until the cops come and say, “That WAS too much!”


    • I’m having fun! Sometime you casually talk about something like this, then years later they’re really happy with having added the inclination to play just a bit more with verbs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Stephen. I enjoy vivid verbs and metaphors and anthropomorphism in describing ordinary objects. They add so much texture and interest to our prose. Your examples of a poorly crafted scene and one with some attention to “verbing” are excellent. It clearly demonstrates the difference!

    Liked by 1 person

    • My work is done! Thanks. If one did something like the before and after with a class each doing their own, the variety would be amazing–and they would all be great. It’s really all rooted in POV.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I detest was, was, was … ugh. Absolutely wonderful examples and alternatives, Stephen! I love this post, and it’s inspired me to get a little more out there with some of my descriptions. Although I use active voice, I’m a little less brave in putting character into inanimate objects as you have done here. Thanks for sharing! 💕🙂


    • Fun, it is! It never hurts to push it a bit, then dial it back in edit where you need to. Sometimes I start with something I assume I’ll eventually tweak more, then wind up growing fond of that first unfiltered idea. Writing sure involves a lot of choices, so it’s nice to see more possibilities, even if you don’t choose them all. I really appreciate the feedback and look forward to seeing you back next time!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Joan. The cool thing is, everybody’s second paragraph would be very different. This is one of the ways to put the creative in writing and stand out just that bit more. You want readers to feel, and verbs are where that starts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent examples, Stephen! The ProWritingAid service flags the passive verbs, and it provides a handy “explore” feature that brings up the trusty thesaurus. For Scrivener users on Mac devices, the combined dictionary and thesaurus offer even more possibilities, making quick work of upgrading verbs.

    Someone a long time ago lodged this truism in my brain: the 500 most used words in the English language have over 5,000 different meanings. (Not sure if those are accurate numbers, but they get the point across.)

    The upshot of that advice: careful selection of a word also conveys the connotation, aligning with your spot on suggestions to pick the right verb to add atmosphere, mood, and tone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cool, Mae. Nudging our readers into seeing the world the way our characters do is always a challenge, finding fresh ways without always explaining.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, it can be kept subtle on through being flamboyant, depending on the storytelling style. At minimum, being careful to ascribe action how the character sees it rather than the author can really be boosted by the choices of only a few words. Thanks for feedback, CC. Hope to see you next time.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Story Verbing Part 2 | Legends of Windemere

    • It’s cool you see the possibilities. It’s a part of storytelling where, like brainstorming, you can let your imagination run wild (or amok!), then look for the gems or dial it back if needed to fit the tone. I find it can really boost the vividness of characters, all by tweaking a few words. I really like the feedback and appreciate seeing you here.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. As always, I love the examples, Stephen. The yawning cup, the stove squatting in the cabin. Making the verbs match the atmosphere of a scene is a great reminder. I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to describe everything with such vivid language, though? Maybe keep the prose simple and save the colourful verbs for scenes of special importance?

    Liked by 5 people

    • It depends on the style of the narrative. A literary with powerful POV written in a flowery (not purple) style begs for pushing the limits. Most types of writing, you probably want to modulate a bit, keep them accessible to the reader, add enough flavor for taste without overpowering. And, yes, if you don’t overdo it, then when you do push out there a bit it’s more powerful for not having been overused. These examples are to illustrate the concept, but the author needs to carefully decide when and how to use them. Still, I’ve not seen a story yet that can’t use a bit more flavor, especially when I can sit there looking at one page counting “was, was, was, was…”. Thanks for the feedback Audrey. I like examples, too!

      Liked by 3 people

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