Was and Were slow a sentence down and make it boring!

When writing or reading do you notice the word “was” being used a lot? I’ve been recently informed by an editor that it slows writing down because it can make a scene less immediate. Also “was” can make a sentence boring.

Here are some examples:
“A table was in the room” does not sound as good as, and get the reader as involved as, “He peered into the room where an oak table and old fashioned telephone…”
(I guess it’s in the same vein as using “quickly” and “easily” and other shortcut words.)
Here’s a sentence which just sounds better when you remove “was”:
“He juggled the box he was carrying”
becomes “He juggled the box he carried”
The picture we get is more immediate.

Sometimes “was” can make the sentence sound like it happened earlier rather than right now.
“I was walking down the street”
Even though this is happening now, it doesn’t make it very apparent.
“I was over there” That is a correct use of “was” because it did actually happen in the past.
“Evening was approaching” can become:
“Evening approached”
or “Evening settled and the streets lights flickered to life” if you want the flowery kind of descriptive sentence.

Don’t stress too much if every sentence you write has the word “was” in it, most of the well know authors still use “was” like they’re on a mission, just try and reduce “was” where you can, but only if you think the sentence will benefit from the change. Sometimes it means a big restructure of your work, but in the end it will be worth the time.

More examples:

“He looked to be in his fifties and was sporting a goatee that was graying around the chin” becomes:
“He looked to be in his fifties and sported a goatee graying around the chin”

“Jo rolled her eyes and turned away to harangue a chef who was struggling with pot of steaming soup.” Delete “who was”


About matclarke

Writing became a hobby at the age of ten, boredom being a great catalyst. Whenever I had an idea I would put words to paper until something interesting was produced. I have always loved dreaming up and writing new stories. I wrote from the age of 10 and also built or designed unusual contraptions and created tools for working with assorted wood products. Creativity has always been my thing, however, no other person within my extended family harbours this same creative gene, so I always assumed I was odd rather than artistic. My non-fiction work has been inspired by my letter writing to government bodies and assorted companies, either to request information on a current associated issue or to offer a solution to an ongoing problem with (if a local government) traffic, public transport, spending, banks, etc. And (if a company) an idea for the product so that it could become better accepted by consumers, or in some cases, healthier for consumers. In December 2009 I came across a story I had begun a month earlier but so far written only a single page. I read it again and realised the story was not only interesting but also had the effect of creating excitement as to what would happen next. I immediately decided this could be a great beginning to a piece which could become my first full length novel, Wake (working title). The idea for Wake was born from a writing retreat on the outskirts of Bendigo, Australia. I had taken a break from punching keys on my laptop and walked from the small cabin into the night. Now standing in the silence with the tree canopy looming above, I watched the breeze adjust the leaves ever so slightly—barely enough to create a rustling. It was a creepy, lonely night; isolating beyond anything I had experienced. I smiled. An idea seeded: What would it be like to wake in the middle of nowhere with no memories and no idea of how you came to be there. Wake, is my first completed novel and I am currently 45,000 words into its sequel. I am also editing, Citylife, my second completed novel, and finished writing my third novel, Blue, whilst on a return trip from the US where I visited for book research. You’re welcome to have a read of some of my short stories on my website. Let me know if you liked them. In addition, my writing group and I have completed two anthology of short stories, with another to be completed in April. See my website for more information.
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