Drive-by verbing

I love clever writing, but I have my limits. Some of those limits are adverb-a-tosis and organizational-sepsis. There are a ton more, but what I’ve been seeing lately is a crime that leaves me begging the beagle to assemble her hit squad of German Shepherds. This is drive-by verbing – where through the magic of our imaginations we transport nouns into verbs.

Oh, I get it, all right. We have all kinds of accepted uses:

  • The beagle treed a squirrel, thinking it was the same beast that stole her beer at last weekend’s Poodle-Palooza.
  • Still hung over, she boomeranged onto the first branch.
  • I googled local AA meetings for the beagle.

These are accepted “verbs” that we all use, so I don’t mind seeing them in a manuscript, provided they are used in moderation. But I’m less sure when authors create new ones for the sake of being cute or clever. If it’s in the course of dialog, then this is fine. Heck, authors get away with murder in dialog that they can’t when it’s a part of the narrative.

See, the idea is not to make the narrative more clever than your characters, and drive-by verbing is one of those hinkey things that make for unbalanced storytelling. Great narrative, dull characters. It disturbs the space/time continuum and makes my teeth itch.

I had two manuscripts where the authors thought it would be great fun to do some drive-by verbing which resulted in my sucking down a choccie martini while grabbing a form rejection letter.

“She calendared Ella for the following week.”
“Roy dirtballed the eviction notice and spat into the ground.”
“Her emotions umbrellaed, matching the pouring rain.”

Okay, okay, I hear you screeching, “enough already! Make it go away.”

So what’s the problem with drive-by verbing? It invariably makes the author sound “ignernt.” On the face of it, I thought the offending authors were intellectually challenged. But as I continued to read, I saw a pattern of attempts to be cutting edge and clever with their narrative, while their dialog sat in sticky, uninteresting goo.

Please, for the love of all that’s holy, avoid drive-by verbing unless it’s in the dialog, AND it makes sense for your character. Otherwise, you will be held solely responsible for our painful groaning and heavy drinking. This type of thing makes the beagle margarita herself into a coma. And we don’t want that, do we?

[Mild apologies to the authors of these debacles, but, well, really…you needed a good spanking.]

2 Responses to Drive-by verbing

  1. Laurie says:

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I almost can’t watch the decorating shows because of this – then we gluegunned it down, we staplegunned the fabric – oh the humanity!

    Though, I’m a little interested to see emotions umbrella… 😉

  2. Sarah says:

    Am I the only one who thought of this Calvin and Hobbes strip?

    I have seen a few words effectively verbed, but, boy, the author knew what he was about. It was one of those don’t-try-this-at-home-kids situations.

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