Monday Craft Tips: Use strong verbs to enact emotion on the page

For the last two weeks, we’ve been talking about Tobias Wolff’s short story “The Chain”. Near the beginning of the story, the protagonist, Brian Gold, saves his daughter Anna from a dog.

DamagedCarAnna is saved, but Brian is still upset, and thus a chain of events is set in motion that leads to the murder of Marcel Foley by an enraged Victor Barnes, who believes his car has been damaged by the drug-pusher to whom he owes money:

Victor Emmanuel Barnes found it there three hours later.  He knelt and ran his hand along the jagged cleft in the car door, flecks of paint curling away under his fingertips. He knew exactly who had done this. He picked up the crowbar, tossed it on the passenger seat, and drove straight to the apartment building where Devereaux lived. As he sped through the empty streets he howled and pounded the dashboard. He stopped in a shriek of brakes and seized the crowbar and ran up the stairs to Devereaux’s door. (29-30)

Wolff conveys rage with the use of strong verbs: “tossed”, “sped”, “howled”, “pounded”, “seized”. (30) And where Wolff uses a less strong verb such as “stopped”  he makes the imagery memorable by using an unusual group noun: “stopped in a shriek of brakes” (emphasis added.)

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