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Packing Heat 111: Phrasal Verbs

Packing Heat is a podcast I've been putting out since 2007. My goal is to help other writers stay motivated, and to encourage them to take their writing to the next level. You don't need special gadgets to listen; Packing Heat plays in your browser, like YouTube. Or you can subscribe (and leave me glowing feedback) at iTunes!

Yay !I had a lovely interview last week at Reviews by Jessewave in which I told my big secret for writing great sex scenes. Really!


Style and Substance

It can be overwhelming how many things a writer needs to pay attention to. Not only do we need to ponder every little word choice to determine if we're saying what we mean, but overall we've got to then worry about whether our ideas make sense. I'm reading a Dresden Files book where the prose is clean and the descriptions of magic are amazing, but the female characters don't ring true for me.

Phrasal Verb

A phrasal verb is a verb+preposition that means something different as a set than the words do individually.

I settled down once my neighbor stopped making noise.
I settled the lawsuit with him out of court.

Get Thee a Style Guide

There's no guarantee in erotic romance that the proofreader assigned to you is any more experienced than you are. I once had a proofreader try to change all my "sit downs" and "stand ups" to sits and stands, when clearly, the meaning is entirely different. This is when you need a style guide to fall back on, so you can say, "No, this is not a redundancy. It's a phrasal verb that I used deliberately." I use the Chicago Manual of Style. If the publisher you work with uses a different style guide, see if you can find a copy of that.

The dreaded "at"

I've noticed romance and erotic romance writers tend to wreck perfectly good verbs by adding "at" to them
  • Licked at
  • Sucked at
  • Nibbled at
  • Lapped at

These phrasal verbs pull me out of the sentence each and every time. There's a tentativeness to "licked at" that just isn't present in "licked." It makes me feel like the person performing the action really isn't into the sex act at all, that they're not doing it with any gusto. I'm not totally sure why a author would choose "licked at" rather than "licked," but I suspect it's one of the following reasons:

  • It never occurred to them the presence of "at" made any difference in the way the verb reads
  • They like the extra beat in their sentence
  • They see other authors do it so they've assumed the bad habit

Now, if your intent is to make your character seem dainty and constrained, perhaps shy and unsure of him or herself, and if you're adding "at" with the knowledge that it pulls back the action and that is the effect you want, then by all means, go for it! But if you're adding it because it sounds writerly to you—give some thought to your desired effect.

I want you to choose words deliberately, not haphazardly.

Your Assignment

See if you can find a spot in your prose where you're trying to be writerly, and then take a moment and envision that part of the scene until you can see it in your mind's eye. Once you have a clear vision of your scene, state what's happening using simple, direct language. See if it's stronger than the part where you tried to sound like a writer.

Listen at Packing Heat, about 16 minutes. Also includes the story about my old boss' douchebag brother.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 6th, 2010 11:19 am (UTC)
Also includes the story about my old boss' douchebag brother.
LOL, I'll have to try and get on the other computer so I can listen to it.
I always find your Packing Heats so informative - thank you!
Jul. 6th, 2010 11:29 am (UTC)
Ha ha ha, I added that last part on at the last minute to try to get a few people to listen rather than just skimming the show notes. (I can tell, because often people comment after the show notes with something I SAID on the cast.) Looks like my nefarious plan to entice you is working :D
Jul. 6th, 2010 11:31 am (UTC)
Yes it is. I just have to use the other computer to listen and I rarely am on that ancient one - however, I will be getting a new one soon, so I'll be able to listen regularly. :o)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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