Writer as Detective - Strong Verbs Containing Clues

A good writer is much like a detective, searching for just the right word.  Strong verbs describe much more than just the immediate action. They can also help unearth motive, character development, back story, and more.  Choose your verbs wisely and get the best bang for your buck!

Try descriptive, strong verbs.   The phrase “he walked down the street” doesn’t tell us much. Did he saunter?  Sashay?  Creep?  Swagger?  So many verbs can paint a picture, set a scene, describe a character.

Here’s an example from the annals of Skylock and Watts.  The brilliant detective often maintains that he can solve any case with verbs alone.  Let’s see how he does in one of his recent cases!

The Case of the Drowned Heiress

The four suspects were gathered in the drawing room. “Scrutinize each person as I inform them of Madeline’s drowning,” Skylock instructed Watts. When the great detective finished the briefing, he drew Watts into a shadowed alcove.  “What did you observe?”  Watts began his litany, proud of his powers of observation and his shrewd memory.

“Sidney, the eldest brother, held the curtain open, looking out toward the pond.  No doubt thinking of his sister.”
“Allyn, the middle brother, came in toward the end, walking slowly and carefully.”
“Howie, the half-wit youngest brother, sat near the fireplace making strange noises.”
“Cassandra, the remaining sister, stayed in the corner keeping her head down. Very unfriendly, I must say.”  Watts harrumphed his disapproval of the anti-social sister.

Skylock raised one eyebrow, tilted his head back, and steepled his fingers.

“Verbs, Watts. This case will be solved by verbs. Yours leave a lot to be desired!  Allow me to demonstrate.”

“Sidney did not simply hold and look. No, indeed. Sidney clutched the curtain, squinting toward the pond.  We deduce from these verbs that he’s helplessly myopic.  He’s not thinking of his sister, but rather agonizing over the loss of his spectacles.” 

“Allyn didn’t merely come in, he sloshed in.  He inched to his seat, hoping I wouldn’t hear his wet boots.  Sadly for him, my hearing is as acute as my choice of verbs.”

“Howie didn’t just sit, he hummed through my entire speech. If you had listened closely, you would have heard the song “Tea for Two”.  Half-wits often notice things three-quarter-wits miss. There were two murderers, not one.”

“Now we come to Cassandra. Her sister has just been murdered. Her brothers are all in the room with her, but she avoids them like the plague. Cassandra huddled in the corner, hiding her face. She’s not unfriendly, my good man, she’s terrified that she’ll be next!”

“With the right verbs, it’s elementary, my dear Watts!”

Skylock whipped out the soggy spectacles and the matriarchal will bequeathing the family fortune to the sisters, and strode back into the drawing room.

“Sidney and Allyn are the murderers of their sister Madeline.”  His announcement was timed perfectly to coincide with the arrival of Scotland Yard, badges, and handcuffs.

He turned to Watts.  “Verbs, my good man.  Strong verbs can always solve the case!”


BONUS  For all you murder mystery fans:  Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Sherlock Holmes

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