Friday, 27 June 2014

Psycho Bites: Inside the Reader's Mind Part 3

This is the last in the series, and is especially important for action writers or anyone writing a book that uses verbs... Adjectives may spice up the scene, but verbs are how readers live the story. If you’re not convinced, then please read on.


You know how walking further takes longer? Ok, stupid question, but what’s interesting is picturing longer distances also takes more time. Similarly, if you ask someone to picture walking across the room, they will take longer if you ask them to also picturing carrying a heavy rucksack than an empty one. This is despite the fact that a person would compensate for the weight, and control conditions find participants to take the same amount of time.

This may seem like obvious observations, but think about it a little longer.

Our brains are amazing. Performing an action and watching an action being performed causes similar brain activation in the motor cortex. This means when we see someone figure skating, our brains simulate figure skating so that we understand the intentions and can (try to) replicate the actions. If they falter, we only know it if it violates our expectations, because we tend to simulate the intentions over exact replications. When your protagonist punches the wall, your readers will simulate and understand the pain, because they know it would hurt if they performed that action.

Verbs act in a similar fashion. Reading jump causes similar brain activation as actually jumping. Essentially, they live through the verbs. This helps us picture what’s going on as well as empathising and assessing the realism.

It’s why action novels feel thrilling. It’s why active voice is so much more powerful than passive. And it’s why you should choose verbs carefully.

Writing is so much more than picturing words on a page; it allows readers to live through the characters and experience the verbs you use, the actions you describe, and allows them to have experiences they would have never known possible.

Cheers for reading!