Tuesday, November 08, 2011

To Be or Not to Be a Writing Workshop

I know I said I'd postpone these until after NaNoWriMo, but a fellow writer pointed out a problem many newbies have when drafting their first story and I thought perhaps I should address it now rather than wait till the end of the month when the novel is completed and the mistakes run through the entire manuscript. What problem, you ask?

The problem with the verb "to be."

This is the laziest verb in the English language. It's like the word "thing." We use it to substitute for all sorts of ideas, concepts, and actions and, while it works just fine in dialogue, it has no place in descriptive writing.

Conjugate the verb: "I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, they are" and in past tense, "I was, you were, he/she/it was, we were, they were" and you begin to see the problem. I have to admit, the past tenses, "was" and "were" are among my favorite words -- and did you notice the "are" that slipped into that sentence? Heck, the word "is" slipped into the first paragraph of this post.

Eprime is a style of language that completely erases all forms of the verb "to be." Journalists know it well and learn to be masters at creating sentences that move rather than just sit there. Writers need to take a lesson from them and abolish all forms of "to be" as much as possible.

Taylor Mali once stated that "English has no equals sign" -- this verb serves as the linguistic equivalent. And yet, in telling a story, we use metaphors and similes to show comparison so we don't need "to be." Sorry, Shakespeare, but for the purposes of modern storytelling? You're out!

TIP for use AFTER NaNoWriMo:

If you use Microsoft Word 2003, a simple use of the "Find" command will help you locate (so you can eliminate) this habit word.

1. Open your manuscript.
2. In the lower right corner, there's a little dot between the arrows. Click it and a menu of icons pops up. Choose the binoculars. Alternately, choose "Edit" from the menu bar, then "Find".
3. Where it says, "Find what," write in the word you want to find (I usually type  was   in that space).
4. There's a box beside "Highlight all items found in" -- put a check mark in it.
5. Click on "Find next"
6. You'll see two things happen.
6A. First, you'll get a number for the total times you used that word (my worst was 1763 uses of the word "was" in a 235 page document. ). Record that somewhere so you can gloat later when you get rid of most of them.
6B. Close the dialogue box by using the "close" button. DO NOT click on your mss or you'll be starting all over!

You'll see the instances of the word are highlighted in your document in black. If you click on any part of your document, they all go away. To keep them, proceed with step 7.

7. On your toolbar, click on the highlight button. It has a small down arrow beside it and you can click that to change your color if you don't like the default.
8. SAVE.
9. Now you have all the instances of that nasty habit word highlighted and you can go through and rewrite your sentences.

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