By David Lipscomb
Can you write a good monster story without scary verbs? The defining characteristic of Hurricane Harvey and then Florence was their speed — or rather their lack of speed. It wasn’t their aggression that made these storms so dangerous, but the way they creeped along, dragging out the misery for weeks and damaging huge swaths of land.
But English synonyms for “slow moving” are just not very scary. Yes, journalists dutifully tried to make Florence into a scary monster who crawls (Weather Channel, New York Times, USA Today) rather than crashes, who lumbers (Reuters, NBC, Daily Beast) rather than lashes, who trudges (New York Times, Reuters, Fox, ABC) rather than tears, and who slogs (Washington Post, ABC, Charlotte Observer) rather than slams.
These slow-moving storms are potentially far more dangerous than the lashers, slammers, and crashers. But the story ledes about them suggested the opposite. All the trudging and lumbering made them seem more like Sulley in Monsters, Inc. — that scary-looking but sweet-tempered blue giant our kids love. As updates roll in about the Carolinas’ efforts to recover, we know that Florence was no gentle giant.
What can journalists do to describe the next Florence accurately, to capture both its slow crawl and its very real scare? One option is to force-fit these lumberers into the usual monster storm script. But that approach might just turn you into an embarrassing meme.
Picking the right verbs is tough sometimes, but it’s a skill all effective writers must have. Choosing the right one to spark your reader’s imagination can inspire everything from a like or a share to a timely hurricane evacuation. In our workshops, we teach people how to bring verbs to the first eight words of a sentence and avoid “burying the lede” in passive sentences. You’ll learn other practical grammar tips like these, and we’ll help you develop editing techniques to fit your busy schedule.