IS - WAS - A SENTENCE KILLER?
I'm starting to think so.
Yesterday, in Chapters I flipped through Douglas Glover’s Attack of the Copula Spiders - it looks interesting as writing manuals go. Not that any of them ever really help you creatively, per say, but some help you avoid writing down a dead end. This looks like one of those.
The book rallies against the use of dead verbs - to be, was, am, is etc. which the author found an abundance of in his students writing and by circling each dead verb, he could link them into a visual spider hence the title. It’s not that was, am, to be, is etc. can’t be used, it’s that they’re over used.
If you look up was in the dictionary - Was means
- to exist or live
- to take place, happen or occur
- to occupy a place or position
- to continue to remain as before
- to belong, attend, befall
...All of which can provoke a static sentence. I.e. - The bottle is on the bar. I am chief of police. I was at the dance. It can even pull the reins on an active verb .i.e. I was dancing. I was sledding. Retuning my creative mode I began to rethink openings should I enter a scene on a flat statement, creating a stagnant image or a moving one - and wondering how many was's are plaguing my work?
I dug up some books to see how the great ones handled verbs and made this list.
Here are some amazing verbs all of which could’ve been killed by the virus - was.
In Gravity’s Rainbow
a man threads himself into a robe
Another gobbles down croissants and coffee
He sprints towards laughter
People gargle wine
Pinball machines writhe under their handlers
In John Updike’s short story collection -
a jet engine is haloed by a rainbow
Lake water swallows two bather’s flesh up to their knees
A bed is sluing like a boat on a wave
Young girls throng a man’s vision
A card shark sandbags with three kings
A beer to soothe my mouth
A woman’s agitation consumes a chrysanthemum ( by her Plucking and rolling the petals )
Hickory trees are clangorous
The protoplasm of a house ebbs in stages
Margaret Atwood -
A mind shambles
A car crunches to a halt
fingers of snow creep over a road
float ( in a hammock )
Couples slither through slush
a voice prods
a thought is censored
a woman clamps her skirt between her knees
dancers whizz and careen
pistons thrust a train forward
A woman beggared herself for love
sausages hiss in a pan
a woman is unwrapped (undressed )
An opal spurts green flame ( a color in the firelight )
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