back to business: padding verbs

It is really hard to keep focused when the cyber universe is going nuts, as it has been since mid January. In the last couple weeks readers and authors and bloggers (primarily in the romance community) have been trying to outshout each other until everybody is deaf and hoarse, too. Saying even the calmest, most reasoned thing (and there were lots of people who tried to do this) could get you called outside for a fist fight. I tried to stay out of it for the most part (I’ve already got one Author Behaving Badly badge, after all). Though I admit it was tempting to say some things. Some things that might have brought the mob to my door. I could be incendiary and get lots of attention that way, or I could get back to talking about writing. One simple sentence before I do that:

Plagiarism is morally and ethically wrong.

So there you go, my stance on the subject. Now, about padding verbs.

Right now in fiction the trend and fashion is for very distinct point-of-view boundaries. Head-hopping is frowned upon. A story written in third person will have more than one POV character, and the writer switches back and forth between them. So you experience the beginning of the argument from inside Maria’s head, then comes a break (usually a double return so you get an island of white space on the page) and you experience the rest of the argument from inside Gwen’s head. Gwen sees Maria’s reactions and interprets them, and you get that information in the narration.

Maria lifted her upper lip and Gwen had to turn away or laugh. Mandy was right, Maria did look like a chipmunk when she was mad.

This clearly comes from Gwen and not from Maria, who observes Gwen in her turn:

She’s not going to leave this alone, Maria realized. This is that ridiculous episode with the toilet plunger and the squirrel, all over again.

One of the challenges of this switching back and forth is signaling the switch to the reader without being too blatant. This is managed most usually with little coded phrases

Maria thought (so you are inside her head)
Maria felt (ditto)
Maria saw the color leave Gwen’s face.

This might not seem like a big deal, and in many ways it isn’t. But this constant signaling the reader (yoohoo! we’re over here now, in Laura’s head!) can be a burden.

You might write: Gwen felt the sweat soaking into her silk blouse, or, more vividly: Sweat blossomed under the arms and along the collar of Gwen’s silk blouse. The difference starts with that padding verb: felt. I think of this as a padding verb because it steps between the reader and the action or emotion in order to establish POV. This habit can get out of hand.

I try, when I’m writing, to look for these padding verbs and if I can do without them without confusing the reader’s sense of which character has the POV, I’ll cut the little intruder right there.

Elizabeth saw Nathaniel reach down and grab at a root sticking up out of the ground.

Do we need those first two words? Maybe not. Probably not.

Of course, if you are writing a first person narrative this will not be much of a problem for you because there’s no POV switching at all. On the other hand, you’ll have to figure out a way to keep the reader informed of all the stuff they need to know — but you can’t tell them because the narrator doesn’t know them.

On a different front: I’m delaying the photo contest, and I may fold it into the other, bigger giveaway. The same prizes, so never fear about that.”

One Reply to “back to business: padding verbs”

  1. But this constant signaling the reader (yoohoo! we’re over here now, in Laura’s head!) can be a burden.

    Sara, I was absolutely fine with you being inside Maria and Gwen’s heads, but I draw the line at people trying to get inside mine!

    As you say, “It is really hard to keep focused when the cyber universe is going nuts” and now you’re inviting people into my head. How am I supposed to concentrate if some total strangers are having a guided tour in there?

    What? You didn’t mean my head? There are other Lauras, including fictional Lauras, in existence? I’m just being paranoid? Well, how would you know that unless you’d been getting inside my head?

    [Laura walks off, clutching her head]

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