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How bad is “was” and how do you avoid it?

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Hi everyone,

I’ve just gotten back from a very helpful round of critiques, but am a bit surprised by one thing that was noted.  In a 600 word PB MS, I used the word “was” as the verb 2x, and one reviewer who has successfully published multiple books said that “was” should be avoided if at all possible.  The two instances in question are “There was only one problem,” and “Finally the day came when CHARACTER NAME was ready.”  While I understand that habitually using “was” would be a problem, I’m surprised that using it just a couple times is an issue.  So, do you think it’s an issue?  And if so, how do you avoid it? 

#1 - February 09, 2019, 05:23 PM

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I'd say it's personal preference, and unless it's an editor, I wouldn't worry about it (jmho). It's easy to avoid, but sometimes it makes sentences a little unwieldy -- it really depends on the context and the flow (rhythm).

For the first: He/She had only one problem

For the second: Finally the day came when CHARACTER felt ready.

:shrug If you don't think it improves the flow/rhythm, then I'd leave them as they were (and lookie here -- ending a sentence with a *to be* verb, another supposed no-no).
#2 - February 09, 2019, 05:59 PM
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I agree with Robin.  If the solution is simple and doesn't mess too much with the flow, change those words. If not, keep them. This is minor tweaking stuff.

It could be there are other simple solutions to removing those words, but we'd need to see the manuscript to know. You can always post for critique in the SCBWI area of the boards with this question included to get more opinions. It's about using the strongest, tightest language possible. I hope this helps.
#3 - February 09, 2019, 06:53 PM
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One of my revision passes includes reduction wherever possible of “to be” across conjugations and tenses: be, is, are, was, were etc., a habit acquired from screenwriting, wherein page real estate is at a premium and lean action and dialogue are necessary to speed the read.

This keeps things sharp and avoids such mediocrities as:
It was a dark and stormy night...
There was/is/could be no reason...
It is unclear...
#4 - February 15, 2019, 07:26 AM
Persist! Craft improves with every draft.


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