Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Wicked "WAS"


I once had a contest judge who was on a search and destroy of every single WAS in my entry. Here's the deal: I think using was sparingly is all right except when you're also using it with an "ing" verb because that makes your story be more tell than show. Unlike Kindergarden....acquisitions editors don't want you to show and fact they don't want you to tell at all...just show. Using "was" next to an "ing" verb or an "ly" adverb weakens prose and tells rather than shows. Example: He was running down the road. That's telling. Hot asphalt flew beneath his feet as he sprinted across the parking lot. That's showing. See how much weaker the first sentence reads? Find a more powerful and descriptive way to say what you're trying to get across. You don't want to narrate a story to readers. That's old school fiction and editors aren't buying it. You want your characters to act the story out before your readers' eyes like a video.



Mirtika said...

For any who are interested, I posted a lengthy entry on my blog back in Nov of '05 about the It Was and There Was in fiction debate, with many examples from classic and modern fiction.

You'll find it here:


Paula said...

Good description of the was problem!

Robin Caroll said...

Very true, girl! :)

Another tip about what "weakens prose"....using "heard", "saw", "felt"....ex. She heard him shuffle across the room. Revised-He shuffled across the room, his slippers dragging across the hardwood floor with a scuff.