This week the Spring Intensive writing group played around with an exercise from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. It's called The Action of a Sentence (p95 of the latest 30th Anniversary edition).
You fold a piece of paper vertically down the middle. On the left side, list ten nouns, any nouns. An example list:
chicken noodle soup
Then select an occupation (teacher, pilot, chef). On the right side, list fifteen verbs someone in the occupation might perform. Here's a list of verbs I generated:
Let's play a game. Can you guess the profession? I'll give the answer in the comments of this blog article. Here's another list.
How was that one? A bit harder, right? Answer below.
Next, create sentences linking the nouns and verbs together. Use verbs in the past or present tense. The result: sentences with electrifying verbs. If some of the sentences written on Monday night appeared in a novel I was reading, they'd paralyze me. I'd underline them with my blue rolling ball pen, then mention them in a book club discussion. Some read like one line poems. My favorites from the exercise:
His hat barked authority and cockiness.
A plate of spaghetti listens when no one else will.
The Italian scarf smiled on her shoulders
And a few Natalie examples from Bones:
Dinosaurs marinate in the earth.
The fiddles boiled the air with their music.
The lilacs sliced the sky into purple.
Verbs bring energy to a sentence. You don't need to ring your hands on every verb, of course, but sprinkling some eyeball-stoppers here and there will invigorate your work.
Try the exercise out. It takes 20-30 minutes, depending on how fast you work. Next, take something you've written - a writing practice session, an article you're working on - and perform the exercise with a handful of the nouns from it.