Choosing words carefully


I recently read an article by René Barbier about a novel with no verbs, poetry with no Rs, and other intentional forms of writing. That’s right. People are writing this way intentionally.

In the case of the verbless novel, for example, French author Michel Thaler—who for a reason I couldn’t uncover considers verbs to be “like weeds”—set out to prove they aren’t necessary. His action-word-less novel, The Train from Nowhere, is 233 pages long. Barbier, who, apparently, actually read it, describes the story as “staccato, weird, and a bit exhausting, but oddly inspiring. And very French.”

I don’t read enough French literature to know exactly what it means to be “very French,” but Barbier goes on to say that exercises like writing without verbs are important and worthwhile. “They demonstrate that writing is about self-control and choice,” he claims.

Barbier cites other examples:

  • Georges Perec wrote his novel La Disparition (The Disappearance) without using the letter E. He then wrote Les Revanantes (The Ghosts) using the letter E but no other vowels (except for the As in the title).
  • Gottlob Burmann wrote 20,000 words of poetry in his lifetime, never using the letter R. This was, however, an exercise not so much in self-control as in obsession, as Burmann had a personal loathing for the letter R.
  • Francois Le Lionnais wrote poems of only word. Barbier quotes his masterpiece “Fennel” in its entirety: Fennel.


My first reaction was to assume that The Train from Nowhere was more novelty than novel. Forcing oneself to follow self-imposed restrictions might be entertaining for the writer, but does it enrich the reader? Does it enhance communication? Does it make the world a better place? If not, why spend time on it?

Then a sentence from Barbier’s concluding paragraph made me re-consider:

“At the very least, Thaler’s experiment with verb-free writing may be seen as a plea to think harder about the way language is used, at a time when much of the bestseller list is crammed with intellectual fast food, larded with adjectives and additives, written to an utterly undemanding, conventional form.”

(By the way, I don’t know if Barbier’s first language is English or French, or if his article was originally written in English or translated later, but I found the wordplay delightful! Take a look at the sentence above again. Phrases like “crammed with intellectual fast food,” a verb such as “larded,” and the alliteration of “adjectives and additives” and “utterly undemanding” are truly masterful! You’ll also want to read the full article just for the two clever limericks he ends with.)


So are you willing to engage in a little exercise, following Thaler’s lead? Try your hand at non-verb-al communication by leaving a verb-less comment below! Here are some samples, any of which you are welcome to plagiarize:

  • “Excellent post, Melanie!”
  • “Thoughtful. Engaging. Clever. As always.”
  • “Your usual brilliance on display!”

You get the idea. Give it a shot!

Or, if you think this kind of wordplay is pointless, leave a comment explaining why—and use all the verbs you want!

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2 thoughts on “Choosing words carefully”

  1. I wrote an entire short story once without using the word ‘extemporaneous’.

    I don’t think these exercises are of much value. Better to determine to write without adjectives and adverbs.

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