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  1. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Replacing "was"

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by GingerCoffee, Mar 5, 2014.

    I'm not having trouble with most of the advice on eliminating filter words and whatnot. But some of the same sources say to eliminate the verb, 'was'. That is so much harder to avoid. Any suggestions?
     
  2. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Use shorter sentences, which usually eliminates the need to use the past continuous. And use active voice.

    But I'd have thought you of all people wouldn't fall for the whole "Never use *this* word!" stuff?
     
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  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do they explain why, or offer examples of when the word is supposedly bad? Because I'm inclined to suggest that you ignore the advice. :)

    I've often seen people incorrectly claim that all sorts of uses of the word "was" are passive voice, when they're not. I'm wondering if that's the (invalid) reason.
     
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  4. David K. Thomasson

    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    I wouldn't follow that advice. Check these famous first lines from classic novels. Just looking down the list, I see that ten of the first dozen use some form of the verb to be.
     
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  5. peachalulu

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You don't have to eliminate it entirely, in fact it's a word you do need but it can create a stagnate moment. I was dancing vs
    I danced. Dancing sounds more active until it follows was, which actually pulls the reins in on the action.
    Danced actually sounds friskier because it's not following a rather stationary was.

    I eliminate my was' when I want things to flow. You come in on the action from a different angle - instead of stating things - things are already rolling. I put them back in when I want the readers and/ or the mc to stop and take notice of something, or mull something over. But it's all about personal style. Maybe try it out with a paragraph, and see if you like it. But I'd try it with an active/action paragraph, it could mess with the thought process and power of inner monologues or declarative statements.

    Douglas Glover talks about it in his book Attack of the Copula Spiders. I haven't read it, just skimmed the first chapter. It looks pretty good.
     
  6. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!
     
  7. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    sooo gonna check out some of these books!

    And yes, some of my favourites include the word "was" :p
     
  8. David K. Thomasson

    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Dickens delivers a blizzard of wuzzes to open A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

    He was quite a guy.
     
  9. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's not that I think I should 'never' use it. Rather, I'm having trouble replacing many of them where even I see too many.

    These comments are extremely helpful. I went back to copy a paragraph to show an example and already found several uses of 'was' that I could easily re-write, the improvements apparent.
     
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  10. David K. Thomasson

    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    That makes sense. Maybe post a few examples?
     
  11. obsidian_cicatrix

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I find 'was' up there with 'had.' They have their place but I noticed my own tendency to overuse them, early on, and it's a habit I'm trying to rid myself of, by dabbling and experimenting with different sentence structures.

    I think using them deliberately for effect is one thing; it's when I find myself on autopilot, throwing them in willy-nilly, the problems arise.
     
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  12. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Lol. This is why I'm not sure I'll ever read Dickens. That opening passage was far too repetitive for my taste! By the time I got to "foolishness", I wanted to know what his point was.

    For the same reason, I probably shall never attempt to read LOTR either, despite the fact that I loved the films and that it's a classic, of course.
     
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  13. Alesia

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I've been training myself to cut down on the word "was" as well. I think it's a natural habit to write as you speak when writing in past tense. Most people when they speak say "There was a flower sitting on the window sill." whereas "proper" sentence structure in writing should read "A flower sat on the window sill." I think I'm doing okay so far on my latest essay with only six uses of "was" in 550 words :D
     
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  14. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not clear on your definition of "proper" here. I don't see anything grammatically or otherwise incorrect in your first example.
     
  15. Alesia

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Both are correct, however, some English teachers will tell you that the second is more "proper" since it flows a wee bit better.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Come to think of it, I do agree that the first one is awkward, but I wouldn't blame it on the "was". I'd be OK with:

    A flower was sitting on the windowsill.
    A flowerpot was on the windowsill.
    A geranium in a terra-cotta pot was on the windowsill.
    A daffodil in a pressed-glass bud vase was on the windowsill.
    The windowsill was cluttered with dead greenery in vases and flowerpots.


    Sorry for all the examples; I'm trying to figure out why I agree that the first one is awkward. I think that my issue is the "there was a" which puts the subject off by three words for no particular reason.
     
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  17. Alesia

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    That's kind of what I was ( :D ) going for. Most people, when they speak, tend to needlessly place the subject off by a few words, whereas in writing it's better to place the subject as soon as possible.
     
  18. nastyjman

    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    I've found, after reading and rereading my favorite shorts and novels, that state of being sentences (using was or to be verbs) do serve a purpose. While studying some stories, I try to convert the author's state of being sentences into action sentences. When I do this, my rewrite trails into an elaborate action sequence. I found that the state of being sentence sufficed, giving a subtle note and brevity that is powerful in itself. Often it's used as emphasis after a sequence of action.

    Try it. Grab a book, short or a novel, and look for a static sentence (ones with linking verbs, sensory verbs). Next, try to write it out as an action sentence. Most likely, you'll find the author's choice is right for the story rather than an action sequence.

    I think you need to find balance in your own story. Too much action is great. But if the scene does not call for intense action, having state of being sentences could set the mood of the scene. Like the Dickens opening line, the state of being sentences established a mood, signaling what you're about to experience.
     
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