Deck the Hall with Action Verbs

In action...
In action…

With the Polar Express bearing down, there is someone who will look beautiful and calm (she finished her shopping in October) with a box of homemade, decorated cookies; presents in paper with lots of of ribbon and bows; handsome sons and pretty daughters all dressed up; and no money worries.

Then there is that woman who will trudge through Toys ’R’ Us sans makeup to find that last Frozen gift; burn her one and only batch of chocolate chip cookies; stab the air with the scissors, Psycho-style, as the gift bags run out before the pile of presents, threaten to take back the kids’ gifts when they peek in the closet, and beg the post office to lose the bills in January.

Why am I always that second woman? 

Which description do you like better? Which is better written?

During the holidays, hustle and bustle is rampant. As a writer, how you show that action is critical. Did you find action in my description of either woman’s Christmas preparations?

Whether you are a creative writer or a business writer, using action verbs in your writing will give it more intensity and presence. It will also transmit that feeling of action to your reader, and that’s what you ultimately want—for the reader to take some sort of action—buy! donate! save the whales! change your mind!…

Make your verbs show movement, rather than simply expressing a state or feeling. For example, “feel,” “understand,” and “want” are stative or static verbs. “Be,” “am,” and “were” are auxiliary, helping, or “being” verbs. They show no action.

Above, I described my beautiful October shopper using a “being” verb (is) and static verbs (look, finished). There were NO action verbs.

The harried shopper, on the other hand, was all action: trudge, find, burn stab, run threaten, take, peek, beg, lose.

I hope you found the harried shopper more compelling. I also gave her the specific detail action verbs seem to demand, like “chocolate chip cookies” and “Psycho-style.” I gave Ms. Perfect the kind of detail that frequently accompanies static verbs: the adjectives “beautiful,” “calm,” and “pretty.”

Now, it’s easy to see how action verbs make a difference in creative writing, but what about business writing?

Here is an example of business writing with static verbs and adjectives:

“Our goals were lofty. However, we were able to achieve them through your incredible effort and outstanding teamwork. We can all be proud of our success.”

Now, the same piece with action verbs and specific detail:

“We set goals to raise $355 million and obtain scholarships for 1000 students. Blowing away our own expectations, Greenville generated $455 million and extracted pledges for 1856 scholarships. Your effective donor appeals writing and teamwork in planning fundraising events rocketed us to success.”

If you were the writer, which memo would you rather receive?

Merry Christmas

Happy Chanukah

Enjoy your holidays.

Take action.

Photo credit: petr kratochvil