1. Sang Hee
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    Sang Hee Contributing Member

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    Alternative to 'was'

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Sang Hee, May 14, 2011.

    I think that to write 'before them was a garden' wouldn't really look good.
    Are there any alternative words that would expose the existence of a garden? It's not like they just discovered it, they always knew. It's just the time I'm introducing it to the reader. English is not really my 1st language so I need to ask you guys.
    Nothing comes to my mind, really. :/
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you can change it to 'lay'...

    or simply reword the sentence:

     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Rewording is generally the best option anyway. Sentences built around the word "was" are passive. That isn't a bad thing in itself, but if your writing is weighed down by passive sentences, you should seek more active verbs.
     
  4. JMTweedie
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    JMTweedie Senior Member

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    What does the garden look like? Where are they in relation to it?

    I'd add action into the sentence.

    Something like:

    The immaculately landscaped garden looked so welcoming in the sunlight.

    'Let's have our breakfast outside this morning,' Jill suggested.
     
  5. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    If you're in a close, limited POV, you don't need a declarative statement of somethings existence and can just present the image the MC is seeing (or experience they're experiencing). This also adds context, as then instead of informing the reader of the gardens existence, the reader is seeing it through the MC's perspective, which tells us about the character, what the setting means, and gives a better chance to build story.

    For instance, I have a story that starts with the MC alone in snowy woods. Instead of a sentence like "Dale was alone in the snowy woods" which is distant, and really only informing the reader of facts, my opening sentence is "Dale looked back at his tracks in the snow and felt like the only boy alive to have ever set foot here." You get that it's snowy, and the aloneness starts being built, and all through the context of the character instead of just as information.

    Now, I don't know your character, so can't suggest what to do, but my bet is the simple 'there was a garden' sort of sentence that is purely informational improves on multiple levels if you think of how to deliver that moment through the eyes and experiences of the MC. If it is an omni, distant point of view, than you can still just deliver the image directly, and instead of stating the existence of an object, describe the object (as in an omni POV the narrator basically becomes a POV character in the sense of that's what filter the story is then told through).
     
  6. Sang Hee
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    Sang Hee Contributing Member

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    Well, basically the father and the daughter walk onto a balcony and right below that balcony lies a garden. It's in a palace which is their home so it's only the reader who gets to know about it just now. It's during the evening time, dusk, actually.

    Btw, thanks, Cog. Knowing that actually did improve my writing. I never really thought of it like that.
     
  7. questionmark?
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    questionmark? New Member

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    If they're on a balcony, you could try something like "They stepped onto the balcony and looked out over the lush garden below them."
     
  8. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    Well, not to go against Cogito, but this sentence is not passive. Passive voice comes when you have a to-be verb used with a past participle. Here, the to-be verb 'was' is working as a linking verb, which basically means it is connecting the subject of the sentence (in this case the subject is the prepositional phrase "before them") to more information about that subject (ie: the garden before them). With that said, however, it is easy to see why this sentence might be considered passive, and that's because the "garden" seems more important than "before them."

    Most of the time you will do well to avoid to-be and auxiliary verbs. Not all of the time, but in this case, yes. I recently wrote a paper on grammar and style for the students of a class that had a list of methods one could use to go about "fixing" sentences with these verbs. I don't have time to go into all of them now and the computer is acting up a bit so I can't bring up the paper, but I'll list a few that I can remember. Note that some of my examples may not be the best, but hopefully they can give you an idea for improvement. (I'll also take a few creative liberties with your sentence).

    The first is to simply replace the verb with a strong, action verb (ie: Before them rested/lay/sprawled/etc. a garden.). This method usually just requires you to sit down and think until you can come up with a good verb that will work in the sentence. Not always the best method, but it works.

    Sometimes you may be better off rephrasing or rearranging the sentence. The best example of this is with passive voice. Of course, you can still do this when the sentence is not passive, too (ie: The garden lay before them. or Filled to the brim with apple and orange trees, the garden before them sprawled over thirteen far-reaching acres of weathered land.).

    A third method requires you to look at the sentences surrounding the sentence. For example, if you have your sentence 'before them was a garden' and the sentence immediately following that sentence gives additional detail about the garden (ie: It stretched to the thirteen-acre limits of the farmer's lands.), you can combine them to form one sentence (ie: The garden before them stretched to the thirteen-acre limits of the farmer's lands.)

    I have a few more methods, but most do not apply to this sentence. Good luck!
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although one of the "rules" of style that doesn't get much mention, but which is vital to easy reading, is that the normal flow of information is from given to new. Things the reader should already know about tend to go near the start of the sentence and the new information that the sentence presents tends to go towards the end. The reader presumably already knows about "them", but not yet about the garden, so the garden is more important -- it's the whole reason for the sentence.

    Of course, the given-to-new rule is in tension with other rules. For instance, it would lead to "The fine was paid by an anonymous benefactor" (passive) rather than "An anonymous benefactor paid the fine" (new-to-given). When "rules" are in conflict the writer has to do what they should do all the time, which is think about which version works best. In the example I've given I would prefer the passive because it reads more naturally (given-to-new) and because the usual reason for avoiding the passive doesn't apply (the reader is already detached from the anonymous benefactor because of the anonymity).
     
  10. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    It seems like you are swedish (like me) and I was just interested in if you write your stories in english? Do you plan to try and get them published and if so, how will you go about doing that? Trying to find an english/american agent?
     
  11. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Exactly. Is finding a new way to say 'was' really your biggest issue here?
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In that case, I'd avoid the "announcement" aspect altogether, and just take the garden as an established fact, in a sentence with some action. You don't need to explicitly tell the reader, "Hey, there's a garden down there." It's fine to just let them realize it from the action.

    As in, for example:

    Her motions hurried, Jane pushed through the doors to the balcony and leaned over the railing, calming herself by studying the garden below.

    I realize that this doesn't answer your question about 'was'--though perhaps it might, to some extent? If you're frequently telling the reader "x was y", then recasting those statements to be less explanatory might be a good idea.

    ChickenFreak
     

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