Verbs That Sabotage Your Writing
“Jim and I were going to the store,” Mary said as she was talking on the phone with Susie. “Then we were stopping off to play miniature golf. I am thinking that we should have been at the theater in time to see the last movie, but Jim was not thinking the same way I was thinking. I was totally confused by him.”
Oh, my stars in heaven! What kind of writing is that?
In plain words, it’s “stupid” writing, littered with passive verbs that we call “being” verbs. If you want to murder your story before it ever gets off the ground, use these verbs frequently. Your reader will fall asleep before he gets to the second page.
For some reason, newbie writers and passive verbs go together like bread and butter. I’ve never been able to figure out why so many beginning writers, including myself years ago, have/had the uncanny habit of using these verbs so frequently. When you analyze what’s happening, you can actually see that it takes more forethought AND more words to write in the passive “being verb” voice. And the writing is just plain boring, is it not? And it’s a hard habit to break. After 20 years of writing, I still catch myself drifting into the passive voice world.
What are Being Verbs?
So, what are the being verbs that turn your “wow” story into a “ho hum” nightmare?
When I taught junior and senior high English, every student memorized the list of being verbs. I constantly reminded the teens to be on the lookout for the little rascals that needed to be ditched and replaced with active verbs. So here’s the list:
Am, are, is, was, were, be, been, will be, shall be, has been, had been
Now, I’m not saying that you need to purge your entire manuscript of every being verb, but use them sparingly. Look for verbs that are in the passive voice and change them to active. Reword your sentences that the direct object or the object of the preposition becomes the subject. That will immediately change your sentences to “active” ones.
Let’s look at how we can change the opening paragraph to a more exciting visit with Mary:
“Jim and I went to the store,” Mary said as she talked on the phone with Susie. “Then we stopped to play miniature golf. I think we could have gotten to the theater in time to see the last movie, but Jim thinks completely different from me. He totally confused me.”
There you see how we eliminated almost all the being verbs. In the very last sentence, the object of the preposition, him, became the subject, he, in the rewrite.
Now, let’s look at three more bad examples that we’ll rewrite into good sentences:
Last night Billy was bitten by Larry’s dog Bowser.
Did you see how Cathy was wrapping that wet towel around her arm?
The beautiful maple leaves were turning a bright red in the fall.
Last night, Larry’s dog Bowser bit Billy.
Did you see how Cathy wrapped that wet towel around her arm?
The beautiful maple leaves turned a bright red in the fall.
There you have the “quickie” ins and outs of the misuse of the passive voice. Take a good look at your writings, hunt for the little “being” verbs, and send them on a hike. Your writing will spruce up like you’ve never seen before. Check out this website for a more in-depth study of the passive voice: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/7-examples-of-passive-voice/
Until then, happy “active voice” writing!
P.S. Time to register for the 2016 Montrose Christian Writers Conference. Please check out all the workshops available from an award-winning faculty and print out the registration form at http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx
Please let me know if you’d like a hard copy of the brochure. I’ll mail one to you.