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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

These Shoes Are Flat

There's nothing wrong with them. In fact, they're pretty darn cute if you ask me, but we aren't talking shoes here. We're talking writing. And let's face it. There's nothing cute about flat writing. In my opinion, this is one of the easiest traps to fall into. A good sign of flat writing is the "to be" verbs: was, are, were, is, etc. Don't use them unless you have to, which will happen occasionally. Example: Inside was the garnet ring. Flat. The ring is doing nothing. The garnet ring sparkled under the fluorescent lights. Still not great, but better, don't you think? The ring now has some sparkly significance. My second challenge for you this week (not that you can do it all in a week) is to try to rewrite every sentence that you've used a "to be" verb. Your words will start to jump off the page. Geez, no wonder these rewrites are taking me so long. How do you feel about "to be" verbs? Do you have a love/hate relationship with them like I do?

48 comments:

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Once I did this with my whole novel and I found sometimes was needed to stay. I filled in an existed where a was worked much better. It's worth it to comb through, but to always be mindful when the to be family just plain works best.
~ Wendy

lotusgirl said...

totally understand. I'm stuck in an endless cycle of rewrites.

Melanie's Randomness said...

I think the sparkled sentence sounds a 100 times better. In my writers group the leader did tell one of our members that his book was flat that he needed to grab the reader more. I think I got a lot of re-writing to do. =)

Julie Jarnagin said...

I've done the same as Wendy. It took a long time, but it was eye opening.

Erica Chapman said...

Gah! "to be" isn't so bad for me, but "was" OMG it's all over the page. I have a really hard time getting that one out. If only I knew an acceptable amount to have? Hmmm. That's what I'm working on next *sigh*

Hope the rewrites are going well for you ;o)

Solvang Sherrie said...

The sad thing is (ha!) you learn to write this way in school. I'm watching it happen with my kids. But I hope to counteract it with good books and encouraging them to write creatively outside of school.

Charity Bradford said...

This is one of the things I work on constantly. Most instances I can change the wording and find a stronger verb, but sometimes there isn't any way to say it without was or had. I figure, if I change 95% of them to stronger verbs, that remaining 5% won't be too bad.

Thanks, for this post, I enjoyed it. Those are really cute flats.

Terri Tiffany said...

I learned it early on and found dropping my to be verbs helped me find a much stronger verb that worked:) Love those shoes too:)

Patti said...

Definitely, a love hate relationship, but your right, dropping them as often as you can makes for better writing.

Laura Pauling said...

I agree! I love words that jump off the page! sometimes that comes with the rewrite. :)

Bethany Mattingly said...

I definitely have a love/hate relationship with them...them doing the loving and me doing the hating lol

Leah Rubin said...

Yes, love/hate is the way to look at it. Sometimes they belong, but not too often...

Very good thoughts here, as always!

Nisa said...

I had that same realization yesterday - no wonder these revisions are taking me so long... But they're so worth it!

L. T. Host said...

I try to stay away from them in general, yes, but sometimes they're needed. Like there. :) Great post, as usual, Susan!

Tess said...

I agree w/ what's been said. We should look at each one and decide if it really needs to be there -- but ruling them out completely isn't always the best option.

Tere Kirkland said...

Great analogy. I'm on the lookout for "was", and "is" in my present tense novels.

One of the best pieces of advice I've read lately (aside from this post, lol) is to be sure that each sentence ends with a powerful word.

Carolyn V. said...

I have a problem with the were/was! I use them a ton! I have to change all of the during rewrites. But boy, it makes a difference! =)

Jennifer Shirk said...

Ya know, I'm not sure if I use "to be" verbs. No one has ever told me! LOL I'm going to look today in my finished chapter.
But I think they might have their place here and there, like an exclamation point. :)

Lynn said...

Great advise! I think I'll wear high heels at my desk from now on to help remind myself never to write flat.

Angie Muresan said...

Actually flat shoes are very uncomfortable. I need a little heel otherwise my back aches 20 minutes in.
Regarding flat writing, I never thought of that! I need to go back and look at everything again.

Tamika: said...

Love the shoes!

No matter how long it takes Susan I love that you are doing everything you can to make your work shine.

You inspire us all to do the same. I'm up for the challenge!

Girl in My Own World said...

Cute shoes. Yes, you are right. I never quite thought of it like that. Thanks for sharing. :o)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I definitely keep an eye out for these and try to use them sparingly.

Karen said...

I know I use them a lot, but I hate 'to be' verbs in writing. There are so many better/more interesting ways to explain things.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yes, yes and yes! I most definitely DO have a love/hate relationship with them - mostly hate. It's an area I work to be aware of because it is NOT my strength. :-)

roxy said...

Okay, now I'm going to revise my revision and check on those verbs. Great post, and I love the cute shoes. :)

Elana Johnson said...

I allow myself to vomit them up during the first draft stage. Then I have to clean up all the splatters. Sometimes I can, and sometimes I'm cursing during rewrites. But oh well. I'm a better rewriter than a writer, so it's what I do.

B.J. Anderson said...

Wonderful reminder! I'm kind of like Elana though, I use them a lot in the first draft and then try to weed them out in revisions. Oh well, whatever works I guess. :D

Heckety said...

A very boring verb family. The Hub had an English teacher who hated 'get' and 'got' as well, and my pet hate is 'nice'!

Amy Tate said...

Oh, absolutely! They're like knats that show up at T ball practice. I spend hours swatting them away.

lakeviewer said...

Great analogy. Sometimes, though, you just want to be.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I like them a lot... so I spend a lot of time changing them. :(

T. Anne said...

I can't even explain to you how much I love coming to your blog and reading your posts. Shoes AND writing???? Brilliant beyond measure. Plus you have darn good tips. ;)

Jaydee Morgan said...

I have that love/hate relationship going on in my WIP. I hate the "to be" verbs but you wouldn't know it - they love to show up in my writing.

Lydia Kang said...

Yep I totally agree about the flat writing. Love the flat shoes, though!
I try hard to remove all the "to be" verbs from my writing, but I can't seem to get rid of all of them!

David F. Weisman said...

Everytime I see I've used one, I spend a few minutes trying to rewrite the sentence without it - but no more.

Susan Fields said...

As I'm revising, I search each chapter and try to change all the "was"s and "were"s that can be changed, but inevitably I find a few that really do work better as they are.

Anissa said...

I'm a total "was" girl. Ugh. The revisions will never end...

Faith E. Hough said...

Yes! This was a recent revelation to me, but all my mss are so much better for cutting out "is" or "was" whenever I can.
Great post and blog!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post! I'm always catching myself doing this. I think it's been drilled into my head enough times so I know better.

Can't wait to read your next words of wisdom. :D

Dara said...

I fall in to the flat writing trap when I'm drafting (a good chunk of the words I have now are in a desperate need of editing). Thanks for the post!

P.S. I love those shoes.

Natalie said...

I'm still terrible about using excessive "to be" verbs, but I'm more aware of my problem now and at least I try to be more clever. :)

Lily Robinson said...

Great example! I'm finally getting around to catching up. Brady is napping. I'd better hurry and read your other posts!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

ah yes, adding the brilliance to your writing. It can seem like a job unending. I keep going back and adding more and more sparkle.

Kelly H-Y said...

You bet! Great reminder post!!!

Suzanne Casamento said...

You're right, there's nothing funny about flat verbs! It's all about strong verbs. I use the thesaurus on Word, a huge print thesaurus, a slang thesaurus, and an online thesaurus. It's a continual chase for the best verb.

Heather Sunseri said...

That's something I probably should take a closer look at. Rewrites are so tough!

JennyMac said...

Revisions will soon be my middle name. :)