Many blog posts implore authors to avoid using the most common verb in any language, ‘to be.’ In any of its conjugated forms, it slows your writing down to a crawl and readers find it boring to say the least.
1. Using ‘to be’ in an initial draft is not the end of the world. I use it too. After all, you shouldn’t sit at your desk with your arms folded trying to rephrase a sentence when you’re hammering out a first draft. It’s better to get your ideas down on paper and revise them later.
2. ‘Was’ can push your #writing into a passive voice. I consciously avoid the passive voice, even in a first draft. However, you’ll see in the sample paragraph below, I used it without realizing.
3. Of course this “rule” does not apply to dialog. Remember, dialog should never appear as grammatically perfect and edited sentences. That will make your characters seem wooden and artificial. For more on dialog, follow the link to an older blog post. Writing Better Dialog
Here’s a sample from a short story called “Hope and Prey,” which will appear in my next collection, “Stasis & Other Dystopian Tales.” You will notice other revisions besides different forms of the verb in question. The ‘find’ function in Microsoft Word can help you to isolate the words you’re trying to avoid. Then as you edit, you’ll notice many other places where revision is needed.
There’s no context concerning the following paragraphs (we’re jumping in on page 3), but I think you’ll understand.
A First Draft…
From this point on, any exposure can be deadly. Crossing an open field means leaving the cover of trees, shrubs, and shadows behind. Jennifer cupped her daughter’s chin and nudged it to get the child’s undivided attention. She held up her index finger and placed it on her lips.
Baby Sarah nodded that the message was received. Remain quiet, remain still.
There were many stories of this area. But the lack of people made her wonder if any of the stories were true. Then she wondered if their numbers were down from eating each other. It seemed plausible to her, but it wasn’t enough to take any unnecessary risks.
“Why don’t we walk around the edge?” Baby Sarah whispered.
Jennifer nodded. Out of the mouths of babes, she thought. It would take a lot longer, but the safety of cover was too important. After all, they were about to enter cannibal country.
And a revision…
From this point on, any exposure could be deadly. Crossing this open field meant leaving the cover of trees, shrubs, and shadows behind. Jennifer cupped her daughter’s chin, gained the child’s undivided attention, and held an index finger against her lips.
Baby Sarah nodded. She understood the message. Remain quiet, remain still.
Many stories about this area circulated around the trading camps. But the lack of people and activity in these woods made Jennifer wonder if those tales possessed any truth. Perhaps their population decreased from eating each other? That idea seemed plausible, but not definite enough for her to take an unnecessary risk.
“Why don’t we go around the edge?” Baby Sarah whispered.
Jennifer agreed. Out of the mouths of babes, she thought. Crawling around the perimeter would take a lot more time, but the importance of cover forced her decision. After all, they stood on the border leading into cannibal country.
Was this helpful to you? Now go edit that stack of paper from NaNoWriMo 2015 🙂