Characters as Verbs

~ I ________ you ~

I was very fortunate to have the chance to hear Damon Suede speak at the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference last fall. The topic of his talk was character development.

Give Your Character a Verb

One thing that stood out for me was his suggestion that before you decide on hair color or height or even occupation for your main character, you should come up with a transitive verb that represents the internal core of your character. Then you should pick an opposite verb for the antagonist.

Let the Verb dictate the Character’s DetailsUsing a transitive verb like ignite adds pizza to a character

Once we have the identifying verb identified, all of the other features of the character should fall in place. For example, if the verb we choose for our character is IGNITE, then everything about that character will be bright and fiery. A person who ignites might be someone with red hair, sparkling eyes, emanating warmth, sexy hot, and working as a fireman.

With this verb in mind, our word choices and the character’s actions would also reflect this verb. An igniting character might light up a room or send flaming passion through you when they touched you.

Damon even suggested writers could use a different synonym of the character’s main verb as a guiding force for every chapter in our novel.

Wow, this idea really ignited me. So I set out to give it a try.

Identifying Transitive Verbs

Character as Verb Using Actions; The Actors' ThesaurusBut first, I have to admit the grammatical term transitive verb threw me. I mean I knew what it meant – sort of. A transitive verb is any active verb you can use to fill in this sentence and have it sound sensible.

I _____ACTIVE VERB_____ you.

So I ignite you works. I sleep you does not.

Damon suggested we consult a thesaurus to find our character verbs. But for me that involved a lot of “is it transitive or not” questions as well as tedious skimming through pages of non-verbs. So I went hunting for a thesaurus that focused on verbs and hit the jackpot.

Try Actions: The Actors Thesaurus

Actions: The Actors’ Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone & Maggie Llyod-Williams isn’t just a verb thesaurus. It is a thesaurus of transitive verbs, and it has a very specific purpose. It is used by actors to choose how a character will behave when saying each one of his or her lines. This is called Actioning, a technique developed by the Russian actor and director, Constantin Stanislavski.

Usually actioning is done with the whole cast sitting around a table and going line by line through the script. Actors identify a transitive verb for each line as a cue to how they will say it and how they will move. For example, perhaps the line in the play reads: “Would you like to dance?” In concert with the cast, the actor might decide to say this as if “I love you” or “I seduce you” or “I hate you” or “I fear you.” The actor being addressed would then choose a verb representing how they would respond.

Taking it Farther: Using Active Verbs to Spark up Dialogue

Wow. This gave me a brainstorm. Why not do the same thing when writing dialogue? If a character already has a main transitive verb then we can use its synonyms whenever that character speaks. So, if the character is a beguiler (I beguile you) they might amuse, belittle, bewitch, cajole, charm, cheat, coax, court and so on when speaking.

In the WIP I am working on right now, Book 4 Under the Skin in my Skin series, I have chosen I escape you for my heroine and I protect you for my hero. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What do you think of ACTIONING? Willing to give it a try?

Post your thoughts and comments below.

Editing for Sensory Language Part 7 Movement


Remember those two hard-to-spell senses I mentioned back when I started this series? Well, now it is time to talk about them.

The vestibular sense provides feedback on our body’s balance, coordination, and movement in space.

Girl dancing. Editing for sensory language: Using the vestibular and kinesthetic senses in our writing.

The kinesthetic or proprioception sense lets us know how our bones, muscles, and tendons are functioning. Without these two senses, we would be little more than puddles on the floor.

These two senses provide a rich resource for writers – especially those writing in close point-of-view. After all, we don’t want our characters acting like worms. We want them to move through our scenes in natural, but interesting ways. So if you are tired of characters walking, stepping, and turning over and over, think kinesthetic and vestibular.

Describing Kinesthetic and Vestibular Movements

Probably one of the best methods for describing characters’ movements is to take a tip from dramatic performers and use your own vestibular and kinesthetic senses by acting out those movements yourself.

In particular, since our characters rarely walk around naked in a smooth undifferentiated setting (although that sounds like a great start for a sci fi story), examine environmental elements that limit their ability to move freely.

Act It Out

If possible, try to do the movements on a similar surface and wearing similar type clothing as your character. Be conscious of how you find and keep your balance. What does it feel like to climb up stone steps wearing winter snow boots? Or waltz in dew-covered grass wearing sandals? How does your body move differently when the surface underfoot is slippery or uneven or steep?

How does your clothing affect the range of your muscle and tendon motions and the awareness of your body in space. Consider the direction and up and downward motion of your body.

Watch It in Action

If it is not possible to act out the movements, a good substitute is to watch videos of people moving like your characters do. You can find almost any action on YouTube using simple search terms such as “running” or “climbing a ladder”.

Here, for example, is a video found by searching for “climbing a fire escape” (not something I would ever consider doing myself) for my WIP.

In the video, it is easy to see how the climber’s body finds balance by swinging and reminds me as a writer to include swaying and kicking and twisting of the torso and not just a focus on the hands clinging to the rungs. It also demonstrates how the body movement changes as the climber tires.

Adding these elements to the written description, will go along way to deepening the reality and improving the reader’s reading experience.



When to Add Kinesthetic and Vestibular Movements

Keeping characters moving is key to keeping reader interest. Movements can be added to almost every scene and paragraph. But there are some spots where movement is especially important. When editing check these spots and make sure movements are described in terms of balance, flexing of muscles and bones, position in space, surface footing and clothing limitations.

  1. Any time a character goes from one place to another.
  2. When a character is handling or moving an object.
  3. During a fight scene.
  4. During a love scene.
  5. If the environment changes in a way that forces the character to move, such as a sudden rain or a falling tree.
  6. Any time the character changes position – gets up, lies down, etc.

Some Movement Examples

These examples are from my novel Close to the Skin

Shaking off the constant pounding beneath his skull, he arched his back and brought the cuffs down lower. The sides of his hands scraped against the concrete. His own weight drove the metal of the cuffs deeper into his wrists. His arm muscles stretched past bearing. His shoulders cramped.

She seized Hanger’s hand, placed her foot flat against the gate and used her momentum to push herself up and over. Her belly scraped across the metal bars, and her shin smashed hard into the iron rail.

Keeping one foot on the railing, she flailed around until her sole caught the edge of the sash. Heart banging against her ribs, she pushed up, found a toehold on the top of the window frame, then a projecting brick. With a final tug from Hanger, she flopped up and over, the air whooshing out of her as she landed with all the gracelessness of a hooked fish, her face scraping on the rough tar of the roof as she slid to safety.

Movement Resources for Writers

Body Types and Movement

Clinical Terms for Body Movements

Direction Word List

How the Body Moves

Movement in Drama

Physiology of Body Movements

Up and Down Movement Words

Word List of General Movements

How do you go about describing your character’s movements?

Share an example from your WIP below.

Editing for Sensory Language Part 6 Sound

~Do You Hear What I Hear? ~

Crash. Bang. Screech.

Nothing can beat adding sound words into one’s writing. Our sense of hearing develops long before we are born. At 18 weeks, an unborn infant can start to hear sounds. By 25 to 26 weeks, the fetus responds to sounds. By birth, infants can identify their mother’s voice and the music they heard in the womb.

Hearing is also the last sense to go when a person is dying. Hearing difficulties in early childhood can severely affect language and social development. So there is no question that sound plays an important role in human lives. And that tells us it should play an important role in our fiction as well.

Describing Sounds

Sounds can be described in two ways. As a sound word “onomatopoeias” or as a description of a sound.

  • Onomatopoeias are words that sound like the sound: crash, babble, whoosh. These are usually italicized in writing.
  • Sounds can also be described using images and similes. Even then we tend to use words that carry the sound with them: The greased peg slid into the hole. The pig squealed like a banshee.

*Music is a very special form of sound. Often it is enough to mention the title of a well-known song to bring the sound of that music to the reader’s ear. However, care must be taken to add other elements to set the scene as well, in case the reader doesn’t know that song.

When to Add Sounds

A writer’s sound choices can easily change the mood of a scene. Sounds can be pleasant. Sounds can be dissonant. A bird that shrieks is different from a bird that twitters. A voice that murmurs is different from a voice that yells. Every scene should include carefully selected sounds that enhance the emotional effect on the reader. Sound can be added to:

  1. Emphasize an action such as the slamming of a door or the crash of a glass breaking.
  2. Add to setting and character description.
  3. Describe the sound, tone, and pitch of a character’s voice such “a whiskey rough” or a “pitched high enough to hurt the ears.”
  4. Increase the emotional level of dialogue.
  5. Set the mood.
  6. Foreshadow an event.
  7. Add tension or fear to a scary or dark scene.

Some Sound Examples

Here are a few examples from my upcoming novel Close to the Skin releasing August 18th, 2017.

Kaboom. An explosion shook the floor. The monitors in the room flickered and went out. Something fell with a crash in the living room.

The pounding bass of the music thumped in time with her heart.

She’d never be able to sleep with that steady drip, drip, drip drilling into her brain.

Cars whizzed by, horns honked, sirens whined, drivers cursed.

Her voice came from a distance, swallowed up by a jet-engine pitched roar that stung her ears and made the very air vibrate.

Sound Resources for Writers

Animal Sounds

Noise Help

Types of Sounds

Wikipedia Onomatopoeia List

Written Sound

Past Posts on Sensory Language for Writers 

The 7 Senses





Do you use a lot of sounds in your writing? Do you have a favorite sound resource?

I love to hear from you.

Editing for Sensory Language Part 5: Vision

~ Take a Good Look ~

When we read, we create visual images in our heads. We picture the heroine’s dress. We see the house. We visualize the car speeding past. These visual images grow out of our own visual memory of things our eyes have seen.

In describing objects using the visual sense, it is the effect of light that is key. Any description that draws on the qualities of light or lack of it, are visual images. Without light, our visual sense ceases to work and becomes useless.

Writing Visual Images

Much of what we write in fiction relates to the visual sense. However, because writers rely on words rather than actual images, we need to be careful to describe fully. For example: What image do you see when you read this sentence?

“Sarah wore a dress.”

What you see and what I see may be totally different. The word dress instantly limits what we can imagine Sarah is wearing to the kind of dresses we have seen in the past. Based on our experiences and culture, we will conjure up a garment that perhaps has a skirt joined to a top and which covers the torso and some or all of the legs. It may or may not cover the arms. The fabric may be black or white or polka dot. But if we have never seen a dress, we will not be sure exactly what Sarah is wearing.

Adding Visual Description

As a writer, it is therefore important to be sure that our descriptions make sense to our intended readers. One way to do this is to add more visual description words, such as colors and shapes, and light and shadow effects. How does the sentence above change when more visual elements are added?

“Sarah wore a red satin dress.”

 Now we have identified a color and a lighting effect. Colors like red are pure visual elements. Our eye is designed to differentiate between the waves length of light in the visible color spectrum. Satin is both a texture and a visual image. If we have touched satin before, we will imagine the smoothness of the fabric to our touch, but we also see the way the fabric catches and reflects light.

Using Visual Contrasts

However, without relevant experiences, this description is no more meaningful that the simple sentence above. The third thing the writer can do to help the reader is add a comparison or contrast to help the reader visualize the image.

“Sarah wore a dress as red as the setting sun.”

“The fabric of Sarah’s dress was as smooth and shiny as polished silver.”

Girl in Red Dress

Adding The Quality of Light and Shadow

Or another choice is to describe the actual light and shadow or write about the quality of the light and how it affects one’s view.

“The folds in Sarah’s dress created an interplay of light and dark reds as she moved.”

“The red of Sarah’s dress deepened to maroon as she moved into the shadow of the pines.”

“In the fog, Sarah’s dress was a mere smear of red in a sea of gray.”

Describing Shapes and Forms and Motions

Our eyes are also capable of recognizing shapes, seeing three-dimensional forms, and noticing movement. These can also be used to delineate an object or setting.

“Sarah’s square-necked red dress of lightweight satin floated around her legs as she moved.”

When to Add Visual Elements to Our Writing

Color, shape, form, movement, light, and shadow are rich sources of description to draw on in our writing. Add visual elements to –

  1. Describe a setting
  2. Describe a person’s skin, clothes, features
  3. Make an object more important
  4. Describe nature, natural objects, or the weather
  5. Add emotion
  6. Show a significant change in color, shape, or light that relates to mood or action
  7. Heighten romantic scenes.

Visual Resources for Writers

Color name lists–F–M–Z#Colors

Colored Light

Color and Mood

Shape Lists

How do you use visual elements in your writing?

Editing for Sensory Language Part 4 Touch

~ The Way It Feels ~

Close your eyes. Reach out and touch something nearby. Concentrate on how it feels to your fingertips. When we touch something a giant network of nerves are activated sending information to our brains.

If we have touched something similar before, our brain may make a guess as to what it is we are touching. If it something we never felt before, we may pull back in dismay. What we are feeling is the texture of the surface or object. A cat’s fur is soft. A pan on the stove is hot. A sharp needle causes pain.

Touching texture

Touching Texture

Our skin can identify surface quality, temperature, and determines the amount of pain or pleasure the texture we are touching gives. When we touch something, we feel it with the nerve endings in our skin. How we perceive a texture is also related to with what part of the body we use.

We feel with our whole body. Different parts of our bodies are more or less sensitive in different ways. We pet cats with our fingers and palms, not the back of our arm. Research shows we have three different types of nerve sensors. One type relays critical signals like cuts and burns. The second responds to temperature and itches. The third one reacts to slow gentle touches and gives us pleasure. So while our fingers and tongues have the most nerve endings for critical signals, it is our backs that are more sensitive to slow, gentle touches.

When to Add Textures and Touching in Our Writing

Unless our nerve endings have gone numb for some reason (a hard hit or cut off in blood flow can do that), our tactile sense is always on. We feel textures every moment of the day. Therefore, describing a texture is a way to add reality to a scene for the reader. Textures draw the reader deeper into the scene as they experience the texture along with the character. If the character is being touched gently, the reader will feel that same touch in their mind. The description also draws attention to the item being touched – giving it more importance in the scene.

Add a texture when the character:

  1. Touches any object or item in the scene that is of import.
  2. Puts on and takes off clothing, or when the clothing or fabric is annoying or comforting in some way.
  3. Enters a room and touches a surface – like when a table top is sticky with syrup or highly polished.
  4. Is outside and touches something in the environment.
  5. Is eating food – describe how it feels in the mouth, against the teeth, when it is swallowed.
  6. Fights or flees or plays a sport. Describe the texture of the ground under the feet, the feel of the surface of the weapons or equipment.
  7. During romantic scenes.

In describing the texture remember you can focus on the surface quality – is it smooth or rough, the temperature – is it cold or hot, and the sensation – is pleasant of painful.

Some Touchy Examples

Here are some examples of tactile description from my upcoming romantic suspense release Close to the Skin Book 2 in the Skin Quartet.

“Cold radiated through the soles, up her legs, and under her skirt.”

“The sides of his hands scraped against the concrete.”

“The soggy bun stuck to her teeth. The meat had the texture of granulated cardboard.”

Texture Resources for Writers

400 Words to Describe Texture

Clothing Textures

Food Textures


Over 400 Adjectives to Describe Texture

Do you use enough textures in your writing?

Editing for Sensory Language Part 3 Taste

~ The Gustatory Sense: On the Tip of Our Tongue ~

Stick out your tongue and take a taste. Yum!

Our sense of taste is probably our most pleasurable sense. It is also one of the most complex. We have almost 2000 taste sensors on our tongue, but what we actually taste is a combination those sensations with our of smell carried by our cranial nerve and our facial nerve to the gustatory cortex in our brain.

The five different taste receptors on the tongue are the most basic, sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (savory). It is smell that allows us to identify so many different tastes. When our sense of smell is not working well, then we lose much of our nuanced sense of taste as well. Our taste buds can also be affected by the taste of what we ate just previously or by a smell. Toothpaste can dull sweetness. The aroma of ham can make something taste saltier.

licking a lollipop

When to Add Tastes

Taste is one of the most forgotten senses in writing and yet when well-done, can make a scene more pleasant, more disgusting, and either way, more memorable. Taste and smell are linked together so often you will many times find these two described in the same sentence.

Places to insert a description of a taste

  • When eating
  • When getting something in one’s mouth
  • When feeling sick
  • When breathing in fumes, vapors, odors
  • During romantic moments

Some Tasteful Examples

Here are a few descriptions of taste from my upcoming romantic suspense Close to the Skin.

She could taste the sweet floral of the cheap wine. She could taste him.

The weight on her chest lifted, and she sucked in roasted air that tasted of hot metal and burnt wood.

She took a swallow of coffee. The bitter liquid trickled down her throat and pooled in her


Taste Resources for Writers

150 Ways to Describe the Taste of Food to Children and Adults

20 Words to Describe Specific Tastes and Flavours

Quick English: Words to Describe Food

How often do you describe tastes in your writing? 

What smell sources do you recommend?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Editing for Sensory Language Part 2 SMELL

~ The Olfactory Sense: Using Our Nose ~

Smell is one of the most powerful of our senses. Smell forms and solidifies memories and evokes the emotions. A familiar odor can bring back an image or event from the past. Smells influence the choices we make and can change our mood and our behavior.

Real estate agents know to scent houses on the market with baking smells and soft florals. A night club experiment showed that adding a pleasant scent to the air made patrons dance more and say they had a better time than when there were no scents added. Another study showed that people can sense fear in someone’s sweat.

If scents and odors can do this to us, they must certainly do the same things to the characters in our books. Even more importantly, evoking the sense of smell in our reader will make our story more memorable, more emotional, and more realistic.

Smell The Senses


When to Add Smells

Smell is so important that most scenes should mention a smell at least once and is especially powerful in the starting paragraph or as near to it as possible. Here are some other places to insert a olfactory note.

Add in a smell/scent/aroma/reek:

  1. Whenever a character enters a new location, room, building or revisits one – describe the initial smell and then how it changed
  2. When the POV (point of view) character meets a new or important person
  3. When outside in nature or a garden
  4. When sensing danger – the release of adrenaline intensifies one’s sense of smell.
  5. During romantic moments

Smell The scent of hair


Some Smelly Examples

Here are some examples of olfactory description from my upcoming romantic suspense release Close to the Skin Book 2 in the Skin Quartet.

Bella stuck the bag over her mouth and nose and gasped in ham-and-mustard scented air like a drowning victim pulled out of the depths.


The narrow corridor was dank and dark, most of the overhead lights smashed out, the air stinking of decaying garbage and decaying lives.

She pulled the door open, and the sickly sweet odor of something rotten hit her full in the face.

A whiff of stone cold damp and death brushed past her from the shadowed interior.

Smell Resources for Writers


Smells and Emotions 

Smell Lists

The 10 Basic Smells 

A Basic Smell Vocabulary

Lists of Fragrances perfume chemistry perfumes  Essential oils

How often do you use smells in your writing?

What “smell” resources do you use?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Editing for Sensory Language

– Weaving in the Seven Senses –

As you can tell from the title I am still editing. I have gone over my current manuscript for all the big things. Now it is time for me to add those little details that raise ordinary writing to the level that touches the reader emotionally. This is especially important in romance.

EYE The Senses

Identifying the Senses

One way to do this is to make sure that all the senses are included in every scene. So let’s start with listing the senses. I’m sure you all learned the five senses in kindergarten: Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing, and Sight. However, there are two other senses.

The Vestibular Sense, located in the inner ear and in sensors Hand The Senseslocated in the soles of our feet, tells us where our body is in space and provides feedback on balance, coordination and movement.

The Kinesthetic Sense or Proprioceptive System provides input on the way our bones, tendons, and muscles are functioning and provides feedback on the functioning of our body in terms of pressure, contraction, stretching, and so on. (Note: They probably don’t teach these last two in kindergarten because they are really hard to spell.)

Using the Senses in Writing Fiction

Incorporating these seven senses in every scene may seem like a challenge. But actually once a writer is aware of the need to do so, it becomes a simple matter of reading through the scene and:


 Circle or underline or highlight every sensory element in the scene. I like to use different color markers for each of the senses if I am working on a printout. If I am working on the computer, I use the highlighter tool.

Search and Insert

If I have already incorporated all the relevant sensory elements, I quickly move on to the next. If I haven’t, I need to find the perfect spot to insert that sensory description. To determine the best location, I have made myself seven index cards on which I have noted  places those senses work best or carry the most weight.

Experience It

When I am writing the sensory description, I try as much as possible to actually experience that sensation. I taste the food item. I search out an aroma. I even balance on one foot or walk on different surfaces. It is actually one of the parts of writing I really enjoy.

In my next series of journal entries, I will explore each of these senses in my own writing and the writing of my favorite authors. 

Smell The Senses

What method do you use to add sensory description to your writing?