Verb-al Abuse

A tidbit of information came to me from the cap of a Snapple bottle (the source of all knowledge).* Here’s the whole story: Le Train de Nulle Part (The Train from Nowhere) is a 233-page novel, written in 2004 by a Frenchman under the pen name Michel Thaler. The entire novel is written without a single verb.


If I had to pick a favorite part of speech (were such a thing necessary), I’d choose verbs. They are the most precise form of communicating I’ve yet found. They convey stature and attitude (as in the use of “strut” vs. “walk”), passion (“adore” vs. “like”), intensity (like water that “trickles” vs. “roars”), and any number of other emotions that are otherwise lost in translation (or for which the dreaded adverb would otherwise be required).

Thaler, on the other hand, thinks of my beloved verb as an “invader, dictator, usurper of our literature.” “The verb is like a weed in a field of flowers. You have to get rid of it to allow the flowers to grow and flourish. Take away the verbs and the language speaks for itself.” **

Again – what? Thaler couldn’t even make the above argument without verbs.

So, here’s an example of his work:

Quelle aubaine ! Une place de libre, ou presque, dans ce compartiment. Une escale provisoire, pourquoi pas ! Donc, ma nouvelle adresse dans ce train de nulle part : voiture 12, 3ème compartiment dans le sens de la marche. Encore une fois, pourquoi pas ?

Translation: What luck! A vacant seat, almost, in that train. A provisional stop, why not? So, my new address in this nowhere train: car 12, 3rd compartment, from the front. Once again, why not?

Okay, I understood every sentence. However, these were sentences requiring no emotion, little visual involvement. While I’ve occasionally eliminated verbs in my writing for variety and directness (and often in dialogue), but a whole novel? Why?

I shouldn’t complain without having read M. Thaler’s novel – and since I don’t read or write French well (and haven’t found the book in English), I doubt that will happen.

However, I won’t eliminate verbs from my writing any time soon. Heck, I still anguish over choosing the right one.


*   I have used trivia from Snapple as writing queues for short stories in the past…just sayin’.

** From Wikipedia

About Lori Hart Beninger

Lori Hart Beninger is a native California writer with three critically acclaimed historical novels (Embracing the Elephant, A Veil of Fog and Flames, and A Peculiar Peace) that follow two 19th century young adults as they struggle with survival and acceptance in the pivotal era of the California Gold Rush up to the American Civil War. Please visit for synopses, availability, reviews, and more.
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