Saturday, October 20, 2012

Making the words work: The basics of verbs, Part 1

After trying to read yet another poorly written self-published romance novel, I'm back with more lessons.  Free lessons that you can read at your leisure and in privacy, and no one will know that you're digging into your old digital files or e-books and checking for errors.

Why am I doing it?  Why am I "helping the competition?"  Because when self-published books improve in quality, all self-published authors will benefit, and that includes me.  Yes, even the poorly-written books will benefit.  Readers will be less tempted to lash out at "yet another" piece of self-published crud and tar all of us with the same brush if they at least know some self-published writers know better and care enough to write well.  The dedicated writer who gets slammed for poor writing will get a clue and improve.  (Even if those who are dedicated enough are a minority, there are a few of them.)

Seriously -- A lot of the poor reviews self-published (and small press published) authors receive contain criticisms about the grammar and punctuation.  These are writing mechanics that can be learned, because each of us who knows them learned them at some point in our lives.  So can you if you really want to.

So here we go with verbs.

Why am I starting with verbs instead of nouns?  Because writers seem to have more problems with verbs than with nouns.  (Pronouns are another thing entirely, and we'll get to those in another lesson.)

Verbs are the words that do the "doing" in a sentence:

Joe walked.
Harriet ran.
Mahura lifted weights.
Lord Binkley mused about the dinner arrangements.
Lady Binkley wondered if she could cancel the engagement.

Verbs come in regular and irregular varieties.

Regular verbs follow a set pattern to form their various parts:

Infinitive:  To laugh.
Past participle:  Laughed
Present participle: Laughing.

First person singular:  I laugh
Second person singular:  You laugh.
Third person singular:  He/She/It laughs.
First person plural:  We laugh
Second person plural: You laugh.
Third person plural:  They laugh.

As you can see, all the forms of the regular verb to laugh are created by adding -s, -ed, or -ing, with auxiliary verbs as necessary.

Present tense: Mother laughs.
Past tense:  Roger laughed.
Past perfect:  Emily had laughed.
Present perfect:  Pedro has laughed.
Present progressive: LaWanda is laughing.
Past progressive:  Franco was laughing.
Present perfect progressive: Anwar has been laughing.
Past perfect progressive: Keifer had been laughing.
Future tense:  The chorus will laugh.
Future perfect: Mr. Hashimoto will have laughed.
Future progressive: We will be laughing.
Future perfect progressive:  Nadine and Claudia will have been laughing.
Conditional present tense:  Naomi could/should/would laugh.
Conditional present perfect tense: Asmodeus should have laughed.
Conditional present progressive tense: Liam could be laughing.
Conditional present perfect progressive tense: Minh would have been laughing.

Irregular verbs have different forms for the tenses or parts or plurals.

I am.
You are.
They were.
Jack should have been.

We go.
Ms. Nusbaum went.
No one had gone.

Nestor thinks.
Brewster thought.

Carol will buy.
Sean bought.

Davis drives.
Mike drove.
Louise had driven.

All present participles end in -ing.  That's what makes them so repetitive if the writer doesn't make a conscious effort to limit their use.

Now, when should the writer use the different tenses of verbs?  Are there rules?  Oh, honey, you betcha!

Present tense is an action of the moment.

I walk to the store.

The problem with present tense in terms of writing fiction is that it doesn't establish the relative time frame for the action.  Everything is happening at the same time that the reader is reading it.  This is the difference between present tense and present progressive tense.

I am walking to the store.

The progressive tense -- and again, refer to that link above -- indicates the action began prior to the statement, continues during the time frame of the statement, and will continue into the future for at least some while.  The progressive tenses, all of them, therefore should be used only to indicate simultaneous events.

Rose was watering the plants when Martin drove over the hose.

This indicates that Martin's driving over the hose was a started and completed action that happened during the action Rose was engaged in before he drove over the hose, while he drove over the hose, and after he completed driving over the hose.

An easy way to help determine if you're using the progressive tense correctly is to insert "while" or "at the same time" and see if the sentence still conveys the exact action you're envisioning.

Jumping out of the bathtub, I opened the door and let the dog in.

Does it make sense to write "While I was jumping out of the bathtub, I opened the door."  Were the actions taking place at the same time?  If not, then the sentence needs to be restructured.

After jumping out of the bathtub, I opened the door and let the dog in.


After I jumped out of the bathtub, I opened the door and let the dog in.

Okay, that should be enough for one session.  Feel free to ask questions. 

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