I didn’t know I was a ‘was girl’ until a few days ago. A fellow writer and I had exchanged chapters of our fantasy novels and she told me I used was a lot. She said it created passive sentences. Passive sentences are not good.
I had never been told this before – or if I had been, I didn’t hear it – , so I was a little sceptical. I ran a search through the chapter I was editing. To my surprise, there were 78 was words. Eek! My next chapter which had half the number of words as the previous had 47 was words, and the next had 75! Sometimes I had four in one paragraph. This wasn’t good.
My friend was on to something. I went through chapter 5 and with some effort reduced the number of was words from 78 to 5. Incredible! I tackled chapter 6 and instead of 47 was words, I came away with only 6. Chapter 7 went from having 75 to just 5. The ones I kept mostly appeared in dialogue.
The more I worked at reducing the number of was words, the easier it became. I discovered how to eliminate almost every one by simply removing it and changing a verb tense, changing it to another verb (a more active one) or rearranging the sentence. What surprised me most was that many times, the number of words overall reduced when I eliminated the passive verb.
From 16 words – If this creature was attached to Anna, he might be able to give it to her.
To 14 words – If this creature adored Anna, he might be able to give it to her.
From 12 words: Then he remembered there was no place for the monkey to sleep.
To 10 words: Then he remembered the monkey had no place to sleep.
From 85 words (4 was): “I do.” Argon was uncomfortable with her nearness but felt obligated to remain still. She was a good four inches taller than he which put him eye level with her slim neck and the plain silver chain she wore. Lady Jaspine was an elder lord and had served almost as long as Lord Val. She tended to the basic needs of the citizens of Maskil. She visited them in their dwellings and shops, and was often seen strolling the streets with one by her side.
To 76 words (0 was): “I do.” Argon grew uncomfortable with her nearness but felt obligated to remain still. She measured four inches taller than he, putting him eye level with her slim neck and the plain, silver chain she wore. Lady Jaspine, an elder lord, had served almost as long as Lord Val. She tended to the basic needs of the citizens of Maskil. She visited them in their dwellings and shops and often strolled with one by her side.
My objective now is to go through my entire fantasy novel (all 134,000 words) and remove as many was words as I can. I already feel I’m leaving passiveness behind and making my story more active.
Are you a ‘was writer’?