Sunday, February 27, 2011

Make An Impact - Quick Editing Tip

What's the Number 1 issue I'm seeing as I'm editing along?

The word "was."

Nope, this is not a rant about passive sentences. It's a rant about passive descriptions.

The code was onscreen.
The cheetah was fast, running across the plain.
The ship was now in orbit.

I'm seeing long paragraphs where the only verb of consequence is "was."

Judicious use of "was" in description is fine. It's a word that normally fades right into the background. Excessive use, however, stands out. It's lazy. And it's boring. You don't want your writing to be boring.

Even simple tweaks make a difference.

The code appeared onscreen.
The cheetah sped across the plain.
The ship settled into orbit.

In its place, "was" moves action along and lets the reader immediately know the state of things, whether physically or emotionally. Many times "was" is the absolutely most economical -- or innocuous -- choice available. I'm not advocating purging it entirely, or even mostly.

I'm betting, though, that you can replace 10, 20 or 30 % of the "was" verbs in your WIP with more active descriptors. Try it. Your writing will be stronger for it. 

6 comments:

Sylvia said...

I've been making lists of interesting verbs. I don't mean bizarre four-syllable ones, just more specific. It's been interesting focusing my mind like this: I can see the effect on my revision and also I'm noticing it more in other people's work. My favorite authors use a lot of verbs, I'd never noticed before.

Slush said...

Excellent advice.
Add 'was' to my find list during review time!

Jo-Ann said...

Thanks, Phoenix... I've culled a swag of "then"s that seem to have bred and proliferated throughout my MS. So now, beware, all unneccesary "was"s. I'm a-gonna come getcha.

smcc said...

'Was!' My old nemesis, along with her partners 'That' and 'Had!'

Thank you for this excellent tip.

Phoenix said...

Funny how I don't notice these things in my own writing...

Yes, revision is all about search-and-destroy!

fairyhedgehog said...

You're always so sensible! Not "get rid of all wases" but "check where you can replace was with something stronger". Makes sense!