Monday, May 31, 2010

To Was or Not to Was and Format Basics


The verb “To be” is said to be the most versatile of the English language, constantly changing form, sometimes without much of a clear pattern. Considering that we use it often, it’s really too bad that the verb “To be” has to be the most irregular, slippery verb in the language.

Present tense:

I am

We are

He/She/It is

Past tense:

I/He/She/It was

We were

Past participle- I have been

Progressive participle- I am being

To use these types of verbs makes a weak sentence. You should try to avoid them. Note that I am not saying “do not use them.” These are wonderful words and you need to use them, but try to limit their use. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION.

So how do I get rid of my ‘to be’ verbs? How do I make my writing read stronger and more interesting?

1) Change the to be verb to a strong verb:   (Here is a list of 1000 Active Verbs)

Example: Rurik was afraid for Connie.

Rurik feared for Connie.

Example: She was alarmed by the proximity of the vampire.

She ran away from the vampire.

2) Eliminate the be verb by writing one or more showing sentence. (I’ll be covering Show vs Tell next week)

Example: Werewolves are mean.

The werewolf growled when they stumbled into his cave and woke him. Lurching to his feet, he swiped at them with its claws before they could turn and run.

3) Combine sentences to eliminate the be verb.

Example: The zombie is hungry. He heads to the allies, disappointed, despite having eaten his fill of brains .

The zombie heads to the allies, hungry, even after eating his fill of brains.

4) Eliminate the entire sentence if its omission does not change the meaning of the passage.

5) Leave the be verb if changing it alters the meaning, diminishes the passage, or makes the structure unworkable.

As to formatting, every new writer asks about this at one time or another.

1. Check the publisher’s submission guidelines and follow them.

2. If there are no guidelines use a clear font like Courier New or Times New Roman, size 12 is standard. Double space or, if you understand you word processor (WP) enough, make the lines exactly 25 per page. Number your pages by using your WP program, upper right hand corner is standard. I prefer a header with the title of my MS and my name on each page. Not so necessary in a digital age and for e-pubs but some contests and agents still like paper so if a page is lost they know where it belongs. Title page with your Pen Name, Real Name, snail mail address, e-mail address, title, word count, and genre is a good idea if, like I said, you have no guidelines to follow. Most submissions require a query letter and synopsis with each submission. I will cover those two dreaded subjects when I get the nerve to write them unless I can find a sucker—er—knowledgeable writer to guest blog for me.

This concludes the basics to writing 101. Next week I will start the next steps to taking your skills seriously and hopefully won’t confuse further.

If you have any questions please ask. I don’t bite, not unless you ask me too and say please.


Catherine Gayle said...

Great post, Annie. I'm of the opinion that the reason the 'to be' verbs are such a problem is because they make for passive sentences often, instead of active sentences. They take the focus off of the true action in the sentence. For example, in your example #1: She was alarmed by the proximity of the vampire--another way you could strengthen it and give it more oomph would be to reorganize how it is set up. The proximity of the vampire alarmed her.

Annie Nicholas said...

Excellent example Cat.

Brandlwyne said...


ladydi6497 said...

When I was in business college, my teacher said that he/she/it was the only time that we could cuss in her class. I will always remember that.

Thanks for the pointers.