From 2002 to 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (more commonly known as the CDC) came out with a campaign to get kids to become more active. I’m sure you remember the commercials for “VERB. It’s what you do.” As in, run, hike, jog, bike, ski, play basketball… etc.
Well, when you’re writing, you don’t want to have a story full of passive verbs, like the forms of “to be.” You want to express action, passion, excitement… instead of saying something like “Murray was very upset,” you can say, “Murray cried for an hour.” Using good verbs is a form of showing and not telling. Any writing instruction book will tell you that it is far better to show your reader what’s happening than to tell him what’s happening. Of course, there are some instances where telling is OK, but I don’t want to get into that.
Another good thing to remember with verbs is that they can be overused. In dialogue, most of the time, it’s better to use the word “said” instead of any others. Reading dialogue tags like “Shelley chortled,” “Virginia expostulated,” “Rachel screamed” can get exhausting. “Said” is a nice verb for dialogue because it blends into the background, allowing the reader to focus on what the characters are saying rather than how they are saying it. And of course, with good dialogue, it should be easy to tell how the character is saying what she’s saying.
So I suppose the writer’s motto would be this: VERB. It’s what your characters do.