Or, How I Kicked the Word ‘Was’ Right off the Page
Whether you write in third person past tense (e.g. Maggie stubbed her toe on the lip of a paving stone and belly-flopped onto the grass) or first person narrative (e.g. Drake looks at me like I’m nuts, but I know what I saw) forms of the verb to be screw with our writing. Was, were, been, is, am, are. AKA, my nemeses.
When I’m writing a first draft I type scenes and dialogue as fast as it pours out of me so I can get the framework down, from the first meet to the happily ever after. But that means I lose my critical eye for a few weeks and open the door for all kinds of sloppy, lazy writing to squeeze through. One of the worst–the word was and his brothers, were and been.
Before my first read through I use my find & replace tool to bold all the forms of was. Like this:
Martin was tired.
This is weak and lazy and just plain telling, not showing. Instead, I want to use stronger verbs and better phrasing:
Martin yawned. Or,
Martin yawned into his fingers. Or,
Martin’s head bobbed, startling him so badly he kicked the side table into Sarah’s shins.
It’s one of the easiest problems to find, but often the hardest to fix. It’s so tempting to write Martin was tired and hurry to the next action scene or romantic turning point. It’s a lot harder to dig in deep and immerse the reader in a complex and engaging world. So, roll up your sleeves and replace those devilish to be verbs with vivid and fast-paced action verbs that keep us all hanging on the edges of our seats.
Or, A Short Excerpt from my Paranormal Romance Spell of Summoning!
Holden let her go, sliding her down the entire length of his torso. He stepped back, and the temperature in the room dropped at least twenty degrees.
“It’s for the best.” Good God, Rebecca was babbling and couldn’t stop. “I have a lot of respect for you. I don’t want to ruin our friendship.”
Holden stared at her from under his brows, burning a hole through her, as if he didn’t hear anything she said. She wet her lips, getting the feeling he was not in agreement with her on the whole keep-your-distance policy.
“Right. That makes sense.” But his eyes said, I want you, and I don’t care what you say.
Rebecca had to put more space between them or she’d do something stupid. Like kiss him back.
Spell of Summoning, ms pg. 100
Or, There is Such a Thing as Being Too Descriptive
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King
I love adverbs when they add emphasis to a phrase I can’t get another way. For example:
She was alone. Absolutely and completely alone.
The word alone sounds so sad and final at the end of those adverbs, like a death sentence.
I hate adverbs because writers shouldn’t use them. Once in a while, a fun adverb spices up your writing, but more than a handful in your novel and your writing slides into high school English class territory. For example:
Trey quickly ran his fingers through his jet black hair before stomping furiously
through the yellow swinging door into the sparsely furnished living room.
Of course we want to set the scene for our readers, but sometimes we forget how rich our readers’ imaginations are. They don’t need a ton of set-up to create vibrant and fantastic worlds populated by our characters. So, how about:
Trey stomped into the living room, grumbling a string of curse words.
I cut out the unnecessary description, quickened the pace, and I can still see the character perfectly in my mind’s eye, including the furious expression on his face. And, if I want to imagine him finger-combing his hair, it’s up to me.
I love adverbs for their ability to add unique rhythms and emphasis to certain words and phrases. But I hate adverbs because they slow down my writing and encourage readers to skip to “the good parts.” I get rid of them by searching for “ly” and highlighting each adverb in neon blue. (This is time consuming. If you have a simpler method, let me know in the comments.) I read the sentence containing the adverb and decide on a case by case basis if I need it there, or not. For example, I left this one in:
Becca was thinking clearly again. She just couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Because I like it. And, every once in a while, an adverb is okay.
Or, Why I Chose to Self-Publish an eBook
The #1 (and really only reason): Control
A few years ago self-publishing was called “vanity” publishing and was something to be ashamed of. And if you didn’t feel sufficiently ashamed, other writers would help you get there. It meant you’d given up on ever climbing from the slush pile of a big, New York publisher and you just wanted to see your novel in print already, even if you had to pay for the pleasure.
Thank God for Amazon and their Kindle (and Barnes & Noble and their Nook, and Apple and their iBooks) because they not only revolutionized how we buy and read books, but they granted authors power. More power than we’ve ever had in the history of publishing. We don’t need an agent or a big name publisher to get our stories in front of readers. All we need is that special novel we’ve dreamed of printing, some technical savvy, and the desire to have people other than your parents and your spouse read it.
Once I decided to publish my novel, Spell of Summoning, electronically, on my own terms, my muse burst with so many new lovable characters and plot twists in fresh, never-dreamed of stories I couldn’t keep them all straight. I’m more excited by writing now than I have ever been. I’m crazy inspired to write and create and publish, and the best part is I’m in control of my author’s journey, every step.