[Writing tips] Choosing verbs and creating humour

Writers must make a constant effort to find the best verbs to convey action. It’s what Anthony Buckeridge does in the Jennings books. When reading the passages below, notice how vivid the verbs are, how easy it is to visualize the action.

Setup: alone in the boarding school classroom, the boys Jennings and Darbishire decide to play just one cricket bowl — with the blackboard duster as a ball…

“It was unfortunate that Mr. Wilkins should choose that precise moment to enter the room… For as he opened the door, the misguided missile struck the lintel above his head, dropped neatly on to his right shoulder, and left him choking and gasping in a blizzard of chalk dust, as thick as a snow storm on the South Col of Mount Everest. For some moments Jennings and Darbishire stared at the blizzard-bound master in speechless dismay. (…)

He glared at the boys through the powdery pall and held out his hand for the bat. (…)

It has been said that Mr. Wilkins suffered from a kind heart. He was aware of this, and did his utmost to ignore its promptings (…) “Let them off more lightly: give them some other form of punishment,” urged the Kind Heart (…)

He stood frowning with disapproval as Darbishire blew his nose to conceal his grief, and Jennings tottered out of the room in a daze of despair.”

Besides Buckeridge’s deft use of verbs, did you notice how he creates humour? Of course he does it in many ways, but one of them is by using a metaphor, comparison, or other figure of speech in one sentence — then repeating it in the next sentences slightly off-context, as if it were a fact instead of an image.

Here, he does that by talking about the “blizzard of chalk dust” that falls on Mr. Wilkins — then referring to him as “the blizzard-bound master”. He does it again when he says Mr. Wilkins suffers from a kind heart — then capitalizes that Kind Heart and gives it an independent voice.

It’s a simple trick, but it works. If you want to have a laugh, read a Jennings book. Any of them. It’s guaranteed hilarity.

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