by Christine Amsden
Rated "G" by the Author.
edited: Sunday, December 31, 2006
Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2006
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When to avoid being verbs in writing.
There are some who, to varying degrees, suggest eliminating being verbs from your prose. Since being is such a pivotal part of our language, a building block really, why would anyone suggest such a thing?
This is one of those "so-called rules of writing" that I mentioned in a previous article. In other words, there are no rules, there are only actions and consequences.
The consequence of using a being verb is that it is motionless. It can create a sense of standing still, especially when overused. In strong fiction (and in many other types of writing) you want a sense of movement to keep readers turning pages. Moreover, you want flavor and diversity to your language that the overuse of *any* word can squash.
"The train is on time."
"The museum is crowded."
In contrast, you can make these ideas move by putting active verbs in them.
"The train pulled into the station on time."
"People stood elbow to elbow in the museum."
The sentences without being verbs in them not only move, but also create a more vivid image.
Of course, sometimes things simply are. In those cases, you can draw unfavorable attention to convoluted sentences attempting to wind their way around being.
"The couch exudes greenness."
How much is too much? That is largely a matter of style. I don't think it is a bad exercise for beginning writers to try, for a little while, to remove as many being verbs as possible. This isn't because their finished drafts should be free of being, but rather because the exercise challenges you to think of more active and powerful alternatives that can make your writing shine. When you force yourself to think of them, you'll find that most being verbs can go. Even that green couch doesn't have to "be" green. You can combine it with another sentence and tell us something interesting about it, such as, "No one had ever cleaned the smelly green couch."
So strive to make your writing move by not making everything simply be, but don't drive yourself crazy over it when things simply are.