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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

A Passive Verb

I had an overabundance of thats in Daddy Wanted, but I have an overabundance of wases in The Pirate's Wraith.

Was is a good word and used constantly in spoken English, but it is a passive verb. It is far, far better to use action verbs in a book.

Here is a passage peppered with the offending verb:

While none of this could be real, in the distance she heard haunting music played on a tin whistle. She did not know the melody, but it was in a minor key and the plaintive notes tore at her heart.

She had been in a horrific crash. Maybe she was actually dead. Maybe this whole scenario was simply happening on some other plane because her soul was now disconnected from her body...

But her body felt heavy and real. Damn. If she was dead wouldn’t she be either in heaven or hell? A terrible chill wound around her heart. Could this be hell? Surely not, for dead people did not eat or drink.

But maybe they thought they did. Maybe the bowl held virtual broth. She sipped more of it. It felt good going down, warming her right to her toes. She peered at the broth with suspicion.

“Is there alcohol in here?”

Here is my current edit after removing the problem. Of course, I changed a few other details in this segment and I still have some passive verbs in it--like be. So I may cross something out and redo it again. That's the problem with writing!

While none of this could be real, in the distance she heard haunting music played on a tin whistle. She did not recognize the melody, but the plaintive notes in a minor key struck a sad chord in her heart and troubled her.

She had been in a horrific crash. She could be dead. Her soul might well be disconnected from her body. The impression of activity about her could be happening on some other plane.

Did the dead go to heaven or hell? A terrible chill wound around her heart. Could this be hell? But her body felt heavy and real. Dead people neither ate nor drank, but maybe they went through the motions. Maybe the bowl held virtual broth. She sipped more of it. It warmed her right to her toes as it went down. She peered at the broth with suspicion.

"Is there alcohol in here?"

Writing is fun but editing is work. A writer must be both creative and meticulous about detail. Much of the good stuff in a book comes about on the third or fourth round of editing.

Computers make it easier. I love the delete key. :^)

4 comments:

MarkD60 said...

Mark Twain said something along the lines of "I'm a poor writer, but I'm an excellent re-writer". I think.
markedom 80

Jude said...

There are time when 'was' is indicated and is not passive, as in past continuous tense, i.e. when something is ongoing in the scene being written: 'He was cooking dinner.' means something entirely different from 'He cooked dinner'.

Penelope Marzec said...

Mark,

The majority of writers I know are excellent re-writers. First drafts need work!

Penelope Marzec said...

Jude,

Yes, sometimes was is a better choice. I often leave in the all the wases for quotes because people do use it a lot in spoken English.