Some samples of great writing – with strong verbs -if you find more in the course of your reading, send them across!

Tonight the winds begin to rise

And roar from yonder dropping day:

The last red leaf is whirl'd away,

The rooks are blown about the skies;

The forest crack’d, the waters curl’d,

The cattle huddled on the lea;

And wildly dash’d on tower and tree

The sunbeam strikes along the world.

(From In Memoriam, by Alfred Lord Tennyson)


But as soon as the Mariner, who was a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity, found himself truly inside the Whale’s warm, dark, inside cupboards, he stumped and he jumped and he thumped and he bumped, and he pranced and he danced, and he banged and he clanged, and he hit and he bit, and he leaped and he creeped, and he prowled and he howled, and he hopped and he dropped, and he cried and he sighed, and he crawled and he bawled, and he stepped and he lepped, and he danced hornpipes where he shouldn’t, and the Whale felt most unhappy indeed.

(From Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling)


Jo Ann Beard

Many writers rely mostly on nouns and adjectives to paint a scene, but not Jo Ann Beard, in the opening of her short story “Cousins”:

It is five a.m. A duck stands up, shakes out its feather, and peers above the still grass at the edge of the water. The skin of the lake twitches suddenly and a fish springs loose into the air, drops back down with a flat splash. Ripples move across the surface like radio waves. The sun hoists itself up and gets busy, laying a sparkling rug across the water, burning the beads of dew off the reeds, baking the tops of our mothers’ heads. One puts on sunglasses and the other a plaid fishing cap with a wide brim.

In the cold dark underwater, a long fish with a tattered tail discovers something interesting. He circles once and then has his breakfast before becoming theirs. As he breaks from the water to the air he twists hard, sending out a cold spray, sparks of green light.

In the first paragraph of this scene, on a lake in rural Illinois, the verbs remain quiet. Then the world of the lake starts to come awake, the verbs signaling not just the stirring of life but a certain crisp tension: the skin of the lake “twitches suddenly,” ripples move “like radio waves,” and the sun “hoists itself up and gets busy.” The long fish with a tattered tail—who will return metaphorically at the end of the story—discovers something interesting, circles once, has his breakfast, breaks from the water, and twists hard. The verbs put us on the edge of our seats, and keep us there.


Laura Hillenbrand, in “Seabiscuit,” described a horse’s winning sprint in this manner:

“Carrying 130 pounds, 22 more than Wedding Call and 16 more than Whichcee, Seabiscuit delivered a tremendous surge. He slashed into the hole, disappeared between his two larger opponents, then burst into the lead… Seabiscuit shook free and hurtled into the homestretch alone as the field fell away behind him.”


Here’s what Constance Hale, a journalist based in San Francisco says:

“Want to practice finding dynamic verbs? Go to a horse race, a baseball game or even walk-a-thon. Find someone to watch intently. Describe what you see. Or, if you’re in a quiet mood, sit on a park bench, in a pew or in a boat on a lake, and then open your senses. Write what you see, hear and feel. Consider whether to let your verbs jump into the scene or stand by patiently.

Verbs can make or break your writing, so consider them carefully in every sentence you write. Do you want to sit your subject down and hold a mirror to it? Go ahead, use is. Do you want to plunge your subject into a little drama? Go dynamic. Whichever you select, give your readers language that makes them eager for the next sentence.”