So please tell me, am I the only person who has issues with the overuse of the word was? All the books I have read on writing say to use an action verb wherever possible and yet when I read— most novels are a was and were-athon. It really drives me mad when there is more than one was in a sentence or where the active verb is so apparent. For instance: “She was standing in a pool of water as I approached” can simply become, “As I approached, I discovered her standing in a pool of water.”
I have no issues with it in dialogue because that’s how we really speak but in description I often feel it is just plain lazy. I’m the first to admit, there are times where it’s unavoidable, especially in first-person narrative during reflection.
Could it be that the passive voice, which has been touted as being inferior, is a notion out of the past and really doesn’t apply anymore? If so, I say we change the propaganda and move right along. However, if the active voice is really better writing, then shouldn’t we, as writers, focus on writing with action verbs more often?
Stephen King does a lovely little rant about the passive voice and was-ing in his great book on writing called, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. He believes that the passive voice is weak storytelling. He gives a few great examples and I’ll share one with you where he referenced The Elements of Style, another must have book for any writer. Stephen writes: “And remember: The writer threw the rope, not The rope was thrown by the writer.” He begs, “Please oh please?” afterwards which I found very humorous.
So why am I even ranting about this? Very glad you asked! I personally feel that the standards of writing are important and raising our craft to the highest level we can is a goal we should all aspire to. I hope my writing gets better each time I write a new novel and that I stay open to learning new things. Being able to tell a great story is only part of the puzzle, the other half is conveying it in such a way that the reader can get lost in it.
Because I know there is always more than one side to any issue, I will share a book that broke all grammatical rules and I highly enjoyed it. My Friend Leonard is a memoir by James Frey who used none of what you normally find when reading a story and somehow it worked. Check it out so you can see what I mean.
Lastly, I want to mention adverbs and how abhorrent most writing books find them. Again, I have heard it called lazy writing, thanks Mr. King and Elmore Leonard. The latter believes that adverbs should generally be avoided and one should never use the word suddenly. I have to disagree because in their proper places, I find them to be lovely additions that emphasize a thought, convey a heightened circumstance or modify a weaker action verb. There, I’ve said it.
Please share with us your thoughts and ideas about best writing practices. I’d love to hear from you.