DO NOT LET "TO BE" DOMINATE YOUR NARRATIVE

by Michael Neff

Overuse of "was" and "were": an all too common feature of many young manuscripts. Yes, Janet Evanovich might use it a lot, or another author we know, sure, but why do you want to copy them? You're not Evanovich, so the odds you can get away with instances of poor writing are much slimmer. Besides, why not write prose narrative that possesses more verve due to the liberal application of stronger verbs and more interesting sentence structure? Even Janet could benefit now and then!  If you want to be a career author, and be respected, you are strongly advised to consider.

Let's make a comparison. And keep an eye on "had" and "have" also:

"Her love for the Kensai had driven her mad at times and there were moments when she had desired that this emotion was less overwhelming, but that would have made her ambitions for them less realizable. She knew also there was no way to know what form her love would take or if it might actually hinder her in some manner, and had resolved herself to view her mission of seeking a new homeland for the Kensai as one of irrevocable obligation, not to be disrupted by the reckless nature of her passions. Yet she had not arrived at this conclusion easily. She was worried and confused by another pressing concern. While finding a new homeland for them was the ultimate goal, returning the remains of Leopold II to Belgium was a task she had not forsaken."

And now a version of the narrative minus too much was/were and had/have:

"Love for the Kensai drove her mad at times, and she often wished that her emotions behaved in a manner less overwhelming, but if her wish became true, her ambitions for them would become less realizable. She also knew she could never predict what form her love took or if the power of it might actually confuse or hinder her. She therefore resolved to view her mission of seeking a new home for the Kensai as one of irrevocable obligation, not to be disrupted by the reckless nature of her passions. But this resolution did not come easily. Though finding a new home remained the ultimate goal, she swore to herself not to forsake the task of returning the remains of Leopold II to Belgium."

Your solution: do a universal search-and-replace for all instances of "was"/"were"/"had"/"have" ... and while you're at it, check for too many uses of "would"/"but"/"that" as well as any other words you might overuse. And do this before you begin your third draft.

This exercise will force you to write stronger and more diversely structured sentences containing more active verbs, and once done, the impact on your narrative as a whole will be obvious.

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