Saturday, 4 May 2013

Beverley Birch and the physicality of verbs

Beverley Birch
I was lucky enough to attend the first morning of the weekend workshop that Beverley Birch was running at the Golden Egg Academy last weekend. Other work meant I had to come home early and not spend the whole weekend there, which I was desperately sad about. Beverley, an editor at Hodder until her recent retirement, was running a workshop on 'Through the Narrator's Eye.'

I only had a brief taster of Beverley's session but it was fascinating. It was all about the detail and how it can be used to convey the story. Beverley, as many of you know, is also a writer - check out one of her books Rift. She spoke to us about her writing processes. Her first draft is all about the idea and getting it down. The second draft is about pace. The third draft is all about characterization. The fourth about detail and so it goes on going back through pace/characterization/detail until she feels it is ready. Often she will go through 50-60+ drafts before she reaches this stage. As she pointed out, with the publishing industry as it is at the moment, you need to go that extra mile.

This means self editing, so you write the story but then you have to step back and see it from an editor's point of view. You have to be quite cold and calculating about what works and what doesn't. What messages you are trying to get across etc. Are you being consistent and is the voice apt? Beverley suggested that many editors now are looking for something that is pretty much there now. Gone are the times where an editor will spend hours getting it right with you. This is not because they don't want to but purely because they don't have time. Like the rest of the world they are under a huge amount of pressure.

It is all about reader reaction - do you want to read more or is your immediate thought, 'Nah, not interested.' You are looking to create an umbilical cord between your characters and your reader making them part of the story. You want to be looking for texture, for an ebb and flow in your story. Remember as an author, what you focus on is what the reader is going to see. You need to paint that picture and as such you need to think filmically when you write. As Beverley pointed out look at your language and think, is it said 'sufficiently and efficiently?'

For example, Beverley went on to talk about the physicality of verbs and how much they can convey about a situation and/or how a character is feeling. It also means you can cut down on those pesky adverbs. This is an example I use for my own students. 'The old man shuffled slowly towards the kitchen.' You can cut slowly out immediately as you can't do anything but shuffle slowly. Active verbs can build tension/drama/action when used appropriately. A basic example is suggesting the headteacher 'strode' towards the badly behaving teenagers. It is a much stronger image than just walking. It implies anger or at the very least, purpose.

It was wonderful to catch up with two students from Winchester as well. One former MA student, Sarah Bentley, and one about to be former student, Harrison Bulman. We worked in a group along with the wonderful Zoe Taylor who was the Golden Egg intern until recently. We had a wonderful time dissecting four excerpts that Beverley had given us. It was fascinating listening to everyone's opinion. Luckily we agreed on a lot of stuff.

This is just a mere taster of what Beverley covered last week. I wish I could share more but hopefully it has given you some things to think about when you are editing. I am now off to do some rewriting of my own. Happy weekend.

And because I am working on my dream I thought I would post Bruce Springstein's version:


  1. ah, the strong verb! I have a love affair with strong verbs, they bring such richness and texture to a story. Great post, Ness.

    1. I agree, I love the fact that a single word can say so much and create such wonderful pictures. Glad you liked the post