The subject of State-Of-Being verbs has occupied a large swath of both my writing and my editing radars lately.
The culprits: Am, is, are, was, were, to be, had been, etc.
These dullards convey no action at all. They simply are. They convey a state of being, and nothing more. Say it with me now: Boring!
Let’s not forget the SOB verbs’ evil cousins, the DIA verbs (Dull InActive verbs).
The culprits: Did, had, went, came, got, took, kept, made, put, had*, etc. *Exception: The necessary use of “had” in Past Perfect Tense.
When employing these verbs, you’re indicating that something is happening, but that something evokes no imagery in the reader’s mind, no sense of action or urgency. Dull!
The reason these inactive verbs remain so anathema to effective writing relates to one of the primary commandments of writing: SHOW; DON’T TELL.
A reader enjoys most what she sees in her mind’s eye. If your prose evokes no imagery, if you fail to paint a picture with your words, the reader will never enter the scene as if she were a spectator or, better yet, living vicariously through the characters.
If you fail in this regard, you offer only the fictional equivalent of a lecture. Bluch!
Therein lurks the danger of SOB and DIA verbs. Yes, they are occasionally required, but I’ll bet a dollar to your dime that you can eliminate half of them from your manuscript. You must challenge yourself, and exercise the creativity that drove you to write in the first place. Evoke an image by using a verb that conveys action.
To do so, you’ll have to rethink your sentence structure—perhaps the entire paragraph. So what? Your job—indeed, your covenant with the reader—is to bring her into a fictional world where she can escape her real-worldly burdens for a while. Why else would she read your story? Your continued success rests on how well you meet your obligation.
Remember this as you restructure your sentences to make them active: Keep it strong and direct! No Passive Voice allowed. Why trade one weak sentence for another?
So get busy searching your document for all those nasty SOB and DIA verbs. Count them (let your software’s “find” function do that) and list the numbers now, and again after you’re revised the manuscript. How many did you cut?
I’ll visit the related subject of weak/lazy/overused words in the near future. Geez! This writing thing is hard.
‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard. To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).