Writer's Cramps

"There Was/Were - Avoid These Bad Boys"

by L. S. King

Why there was/were should be excised from your writing.

There was a bad habit I had to overcome in my writing. It's in the sentence I just wrote - using ‘there was/were.'

These phrases are just weak writing. They're wordy and slow the pace of the story. Also, they create a distance from your point of view character, and take the ‘activeness' out of your writing.

Other than perhaps in dialogue, there was/were - or if you write present tense there is/are - should not appear.

Consider these examples:

OLD: There were towers and turrets rising high in the air. She gazed around in awe. Along the back wall, there was a curved staircase going down into a small courtyard.

NEW: Towers and turrets rose high in the air. She gazed around in awe. Along the back wall, a staircase curved down into a small courtyard.

The wordiness is apparent, you can see how this would slow the pace of your story. But what about how it distances your reader from your character? Try this before and after - and yes, you get to see a sample of an early draft, so I'm baring my soul here.

OLD: She peeped around the doorframe. There were no guards but she stopped, momentarily staring at the lit corridor. There was light all along the passageway but there was no fire, no source for it. Instead of square corners between the walls and ceiling, it was angled and the light glowed out white from the angles.

Stars, what magic did the Ancients have?

There was still a chance of guards, so she swallowed her awe and drew her leg-knife, her heart thudding faster.

NEW: She peeped around the doorframe, her heart beating rapidly. No guards. She stopped, staring - the wide, illuminated corridor did not use fire as a source. Angled corners between the greyish-white walls and ceiling glowed out a bright white light.

Stars, what magic did the Ancients have?

The fear of guards arriving hit Tam's stomach making her heart thud even faster. She swallowed her awe and drew her leg-knife.

So go to it, eliminate those bad boys from your manuscript. And be glad we have computers to do searches for us - can you imagine the old days when we wrote longhand or on typewriters?

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© 2005 - 2010 L. S. King