Passive Was Words

EditingBefore I re-publish Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove through CreateSpace, I decided to read through and correct errors I had made in 2010. This book was the first book I self-published.

Initially, I went through Blurb to create paperback copies. They were fairly expensive, and this 31,000-word story geared towards kids between the ages of ten and fourteen cost me almost nine dollars to get to my door. With the US / Canada dollar exchange, it would cost a little more today.

Fast forward to CreateSpace, and now this same book will cost between four and five dollars.

Before I reprint it though, I want to improve the reading experience. After all, I’m a better writer now than I was six years ago. I have learned a lot about storytelling and editing. This novel was also my first experience working with an editor, and perhaps I may have not fully realised what should and shouldn’t have been changed.

Cover front onlyFor example, in Atlantic Canada kids wear rubbers. Everyone knows what they are. Just because it’s another word for condom in some circles doesn’t make it wrong for me to use in a kid’s story taking place in Nova Scotia. It’s a regional thing, and I like using things unique to where I live. [PS for those who don’t know: Rubbers is short for rubber boots. It’s a word that has been used for decades in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.]

The bonus of editing the story now is that I haven’t read it for some time. My brain has forgotten what is supposed to be there, making mistakes stand out. And there are mistakes. So I’m glad I’m taking the time to reread and edit.

This story was written before I realised I was a ‘was girl’. There are currently 519 ‘was’ words remaining in the 31,000-word story. I’ve been working to eliminate as many as I can. Here’s an example of how I do that.

Original paragraph: It was a windless, dark night. There was no moon to illuminate the land. The stars twinkled brightly. In the distance, a bluish-white light faintly glowed and slowly moved through the darkness.

Was into the mudEdited to remove ‘was’: The moonless night outside the nylon walls sat still with only twinkling stars separating sky from land and water. In the distance, a bluish-white light faintly glowed, slowly and silently moving through the darkness.

The plural form of ‘was’ is ‘were’. I’m working on reducing the ‘were’ count too.

Original: His light went out. They were cast in darkness. Prim and Ellis continued to row.

Edited to remove ‘were’: His light went out, casting them in darkness. Prim and Ellis continued to row.

The easiest way to reduce the number of ‘was’ and ‘were’ words is to search for them in the document during the author’s editing phase.

I wrote this post on November 11, 2011 when I first learned about my overuse of ‘was’: I am a Was Girl.

Ernesto San Giacomo recently wrote a post about ‘was’ words which reminded me of my original post. You can read his here: To be or not to be: Avoid overusing this verb.

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8 thoughts on “Passive Was Words

  1. Great post Di. It’s funny, we write our books, revise and revise, send through editors, yet, if we could keep revising we would. It’s said that writers are never satisfied. Your revising your book reminds me of that. I am sure if we all went through our works, years later, we’d all find changes to make. 🙂


    • Yes, we can, Debby. We are guilty of tinkering long after a book has been through the editing process and published. It’s hard to stop. This is why I don’t read my books for a year after they are published. At least a year.

      With regard to “Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove”, it was my first novel published, and I really have learned a lot since then. A lot about writing and a lot about editing. The combination of editing my own work before sending it to an editor, working with editors, reading loads of articles about editing and editing the writing of other writers has taught me a lot. I am spotting blaring mistakes I would never do now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hear you on all counts. I know that someday I shall go through mine, but no time in the foreseeable future. We all learn as we go. I’m sure some of the greats would like a their works decades later and question their own writing. It’s similar to when we write our first drafts, let them sit for awhile and go back to them. Often times I read something I wrote and say, “Did I write that?” Lol.
        Happy holidays to you and yours Di. 🙂


    • Those ‘that’ words can accumulate for me too. I’ve learned to eliminate most of those in the first draft. I find if you search for them in a couple of hundred thousands of words, your brain finally gets the message about specific words, such as ‘that’, ‘was’, ‘very’ and ‘even’.


  2. As one who constantly struggles to clear the “Was” word from my manuscripts, I would like to point out that we shouldn’t get too carried away with our linguistic efforts.
    Here’s a paragraph from a recent book I read:

    As the game engrossed the crowd, a mysterious signal, invisible to those around it, lurked through the air above the action, It traveled secretly, and while the humans in the gym did not see it, smell it, or even sense it, the signal snaked around them. It revealed itself not to the masses, but to one man sitting among his family.
    Trevor’s cell phone vibrated, possessed by the strange stream of binary digits.

    Lots of action verbs. No was or weres, but the entire first paragraph should have ended up in the writer’s trash bin in my opinion.As I continued through this story, I ended up not just skipping paragraphs like this but pages.One author, whose name I unfortunately forget, was asked about how he made his books so fast-passed. He replied: I leave out the parts people don’t read.
    You’re right, Diane.It is well worth the effort to pare down the was words, but don’t go to the other extreme in your attempt to eliminate them all. Sometimes was is the right word.

    Sorry about the red underlining, if it is still in the comments. Don’t know where it came from; don’t know how to get rid of it.

    Art B


    • I agree, Art. Sometimes ‘was’ is the word we need. And sometimes it is my lazy brain not wanting to think of a better verb.

      As for your example with lots of action verbs, that would disappoint me. If I had to read all those words only to learn a cell phone was ringing, I’d think twice about reading the whole book. I would wonder if I’d waste more time on more useless words. I agree that it should have landed in the trash. It could have been summed up in one sentence: Engrossed in the hockey game (because we know it was a hockey game, lol) like everyone in the crowd, Trevor almost missed the vibration of his cell phone in his jacket pocket.

      I don’t see any red lines. Red lines will appear beneath words I misspell or words the Internet thinks I misspell, like harbour. See red line. But I only see the red, not you. 😉


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