Life in Writing
As I was settling into my reading routine last week, delving into a book I won't name here so as to not embarrass the author, I found that I just couldn't get into it, which was weird, because what I was following of the story line was actually quite good. The characters were dynamic, the plot was engaging, so why was I just not feeling it? After a moment of closer examination it was easy to see why. The entire story used the verb "was", followed by an -ing verb to describe every action.
Some of you probably just read that and immediately agreed that that would be terrible to read, but for those of you out there who didn't instantly know why this is a problem, this post is for you.
Lets start with an example, the sentence, "Billy was running." is a pretty straight-forward sentence. It also means the exact same thing as "Billy ran." but one of these sentences is infinitely more engaging to read than the other.
They don't seem all that different on the surface, so why does it matter which one you use? Perhaps the best way to explain that is just to show it. So here's an example paragraph:
"Eric was sprinting away from the monster that was snarling as it was chasing him. He wasn't looking back as he was running, but he was smelling the stench of the monster's breath as it was approaching."
This is an exaggerated example, but it does a great job of showing why this is such a problem in writing. Now let's contrast it with a second example. The same paragraph but written without "was" and -ing verbs.
"Eric sprinted away from the monster that snarled as it chased him. He didn't look back as he ran, but he smelled the stench of the monsters breath as it approached."
There are plenty of other things we could do to improve this sentence, but it's not hard to see the improvements made just from that simple change. Can you even imagine reading a whole book written like that first example paragraph? If you're anything like me, you wouldn't make it through the first chapter before giving up.
As you search to be a better writer and a better story teller, a great lesson to start with is to eliminate your "was" and -ing verbs as much as possible. Athis change alone will make your writing infinitely better.
Daniel M. Quilter is the author of A Soul Divided. On this blog he'll interview other authors, review books, share nerd wisdom from popular sci-fi and fantasy, and occasionally share his insights on writing. See a list of his works or see what he's working on.
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