‘Just wrap your legs round my velvet rims…’

I chose the title of today’s post with great care. Not only did it give me an excuse to blast out one of my favourite songs but it might attract a legion of hits. If it doesn’t, the title of my next post is going to have to be much raunchier.

The above should also serve to illustrate the purpose of today’s post. This line is one of my favourites because it conjures up a vivid image for me. (Of course, it also appeals to the ‘sauciness’ in me.) It would not be the same image if Mr Springsteen’s lyrics went along the lines of ‘Hop onto the back of my Vesper…’ or ‘Jump up Babe…’

I am one of those writers who covets words. I hoard them like a magpie hoards shiny objects. (I like shiny objects too, especially if they are diamonds.) However, if a word can evoke an image easily for me or I think it is a ‘strong word’ then I grab it and bury it in my treasure trove of words; a notebook crammed full of scribbled words I have heard and love. It is a cornucopia of delight. If I require a word for an article, I open up my tattered book, rummage through the pages until my eyes alight upon a potential contender and then I use it.

I certainly don’t want to preach to authors who are no doubt far more eloquent than me. I merely wish to remind us all that there are so many words that we could employ in our writing but we don’t. I am as guilty as the next person. My vocabulary gravitates around a few well worn phrases and words. I overuse certain verbs and adjectives. I swear a lot too.

When I was a child if I came across a word I didn’t understand I would ask my mother what it meant. She, in turn, would send me to ‘The Big Black Book’ which was an enormous dictionary, large enough to use as a table for a large family. I had to seek out the word and learn its meaning. It wasn’t long before I could trot out sentences like “Plutarch may lack the profundity of Augustine and the acumen of Aristotle, but he is an excellent philosopher.” Not bad for a three year old, eh?

As I got older I probably became lazier or even complacent. That can be reflected in my writing which is why I now read out aloud anything I have written and pick up on repetition or just plain old exhausted verbs.

I often review other’s novels and am flabbergasted periodically by their continual usage of ‘said’. ‘Said’ can easily be replaced by a vast list of alternatives. Some of these alternatives are what I deem to be ‘strong verbs’ or ‘Muscle verbs’. They give colour to your phrase. Why not try alternatives like ‘huffed’, ‘harrumphed’, sighed’ or ‘spluttered’?

A sentence can be transformed by using a more appropriate verb. Take the following for example:

“Pink furry handcuffs,” he whispered (panted, gulped, or gasped). This suggests something quite different to: “Pink furry handcuffs,” he guffawed, (chortled, chuckled, laughed or sniggered.) How about: “Pink furry handcuffs,” he screamed (yelled, squealed, babbled, shrieked, or yelped)? Or even, “Pink furry handcuffs,” he chattered (mumbled, muttered or grumbled)?

I think you get my gist. I’ll let the window cleaner out of the handcuffs later. The most common verbs that need replacing are ‘to be’, ‘to get’, ‘to do’ and ‘to make’. As Jordan McCollum says, “Strong verbs foster concise writing.”

Wanting to be an author who fosters concise writing I have written out a fairly modest checklist or cheat list of verbs to use when I feel I am slipping into the ‘Dull Zone’.

Before I wrote this post I checked with the rest of the Indies Unlimited team to make sure I wasn’t going over old territory and to alert them to the fact I would be posting on this subject.’ Cathy Speight very kindly referred me to this terrific list of some 1000 ‘Muscle Verbs’, a veritable ‘pumped up, testosterone fuelled’ list of strong verbs which give your writing an added punch. https://www.donnaward.net/PDF/1000_Verbs.pdf I must make mention too of Deanna Carlyle who compiled the list. So, help yourself. If you are having a dry day, dip into the list and extract some juicy verbs.

Every writer has their own personal favourite verbs so might I suggest that you make up your own check list and when you sense that your writing is beginning to flag, bring in one of those beefy chaps? I keep a list by my desk at all times although why I have added ‘banjaxed’ to it is a complete mystery to me.

Author: Carol Wyer

Carol E Wyer is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and an award-winning and best-selling author of humorous novels including MINI SKIRTS AND LAUGHTER LINES, SURFING IN STILETTOS, and HOW NOT TO MURDER YOUR GRUMPY. Carol has been featured on NBC News, BBC Radio, and in The Huffington Post. For more about Carol, go to her website or her Amazon author page.

28 thoughts on “‘Just wrap your legs round my velvet rims…’”

  1. Fabulous, Carol! I tend to fall into the same ruts and try to look for more evocative and less-overused choices. Although we have fought the equivalent of the Hundred Year's War over the use of "said" versus more aerobic forms of speech.

    1. It's so easy to get become 'stale', isn't it? I find I do the same thing when I talk. I use the same language over and over again. I now make an effort to use a new word every day.It bamboozles Hubby but I am having fun.

  2. I agree that word choice brings a story to life. It is a difficult thing to learn and to do correctly. As a newish writer, I see plain Jane text but I also see overwrought flowery text … finding balance between the two extremes is key.

    I'm with you when you speak of the impact of a new complex interesting word that means exactly what you wanted that word to mean.

    Really enjoyed this Carol 🙂

    1. Thank you Jo-Anne. Yes, there is a fine balance between good language and over flowery or even stilted language. I have just beta read a lengthy story for a friend and I kept dozing off thanks to the language. It was so dull. I had to tell them of course. I don't think we're friends any more but I have saved the world from a dreadful piece of writing.

  3. So true, Carol.I find myself looking at the same old verbs (and adjectives) in my writing and looking for spicier, less boring ones all the time.It's not always easy.

  4. I agree with you, Carol. Boy, do I agree with you! And yet I feel compelled to put in a good word for "said" (even though it sounds like you've already gone a few rounds with Laurie over it, lol). "Said" is a great helper in dialogue — it identifies the speaker without hitting the reader over the head with the information. However, if the situation calls for a stronger verb, and particularly if it rescues you from using an adverb ("she pleaded" vs. "she said beseechingly," for example), I'm all for dumping "said" for something better.

    1. Hats off to you Lynne. You put a convincing argument for "said". I'll bow down and agree with you. Hmm I haven't used "beseechingly" in a while. I think I might be adding that to my glittering pile of words.

  5. Word choice is key in so many ways, however, one needs to be careful. Writers should always remember they are writing for a reader and that there is a process that occurs in the reader's mind where the reader gives her own consciousness, memories, biases, beliefs, and expectations to the story and the writer's depiction of that story through their choice of words and use of language. There's a reason that Hemingway and Ray Carver are two of the most revered stylists of the past century. Writers like Alice Munro and Amy Hempel are also profound and moving being judicious in their seeming simplicity. Less is more usually works in literature because the writer is letting the reader bring themselves to the story. This is particularly true with dialog. When I write dialog I really don't want any modifiers or indicators of any kind. I use "said" or "says" only to indicate the speaker because I don't want my reader confused. I might use something like "whispered" or "guffawed" 5% of the time, although I'm never sure why.

    So, I agree with your premise, but I also think you have to be very, very careful as a writer because you aren't writing for yourself or to impress others, you're writing for a reader. You have to ask yourself, how much is too much? If laugh will do and I can trust the reader to extend their own perception/impression, why guffaw, chuckle, snort, or snicker?

    1. You have a valid argument here David and I am a fan of "less is more".

      I intended only to point out that it is sometimes wise to check through our work. Often we get so carried away with the complexities of plot or characterisation that we can overlook the actual words we have used. Based on my own discoveries when I beta read for others and indeed edited my own work I felt it was useful to pass on my thoughts about it.

      It is imperative that the reader engages with your work and is not bogged down so much by the language that they lose interest in the story. (See my comment above.)

      So, in brief, I agree with what you have to say. A balance needs to be struck.

      1. Just to quickly add on here to the idea of "checking your work" as it relates to word choice: it always helps to read a story out loud once you feel you have a final draft. What I'm starting to do though is have my computer read to me. The stilted nature of "robot speech" actually keeps me focused on cadence and word choice. I use a Mac and have learned to dump the audio file onto my iPod and can then just walk around and listen during lunch or even while working out…I catch so many phrases and stupid word choices. Thanks again Carol. I guess this piece is heading into the deep, but wanted to point this out anyway.

  6. Great post, Carol. Your title certainly grabbed my attention. How any author combines words to convey meaning will captivate some readers and repel others. An editor's blog recently laid down this statement as law, "Never use a large word when a smaller one will do."

    At the opposite extreme, "ubiquitous" has sprung into overuse, from out of the blue. How do obscure adjectives like that one become contagious?

    1. Self-referential meme virus?

      (I think much of the blame can be placed on Nirvana calling their album "Eponymous"

      "Esoteric" was the same damned thing.

    2. Thank you Marcia. I spent some time thinking of one that would attract the reader's attention. (Not necessarily my forte)

      At the risk of repeating myself on this subject, it is clearly about what flows, what works and what engages the reader. I certainly don't want people to go away and make their writing sound so pompous and frilly that it ruins it.

      This is more about ensuring that work is not too repetitious or flat.

  7. That whole line always bothered me.

    Excerpt from my book "The Weekend Warrior"

    Probably Bruce Springsteen put it best, in his immoral words:

    Wrap your legs around my velvet rims

    And strap your arms cross my engine.

    Well that one might actually be too kinky to even visualize, but you can tell the Boss had his head in the right place. Or maybe you can't. Somewhere down around her turbocharger, sounds like.

  8. Intriguing title, but "velvet"? Many more apt adjectives for rims come to mind. satin, glossy, chrome, steel, ebony, shiny . . . but definitely not velvet.

  9. I read that using 'said' or the variations of was the right way to go rather than fluffing up the language. I mean obviously, when it's necessary then by all means, but trying for bigger, better words was Tom Sawyer-ing? I think. I don't bloody remember. I know Stephen King mentioned it in On Writing, and a few other books have 'said' (hah!) the same thing.

    I could be wrong, though.

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