Tag Archives: writing tips

The curse of “There Was/There Is”

Wordiness isn’t good. You’ve probably heard that being said a thousand times before, but what does it mean? Well, one of the first items we’ll tackle in regards to wordiness, is “there is/there was”. Most of the times, it’s completely unnecessary to add “there is/there was” at the start of your sentence.

Let’s illustrate this with a few examples.

There were stars shining in the sky.

Oh, the wordiness! Why go that way when you can put it much simpler?

Stars shined in the sky.

The meaning of the sentence is exactly the same, but we’ve gotten rid of the wordiness. Time for another example.

There was screaming, and it pierced my ears.

This sentence is so wordy it even sounds weird. There’s a simple trick to make it better: delete ‘there was’.

Screams pierced my ears.

Are you up for one more? All right, here we go.

There were men attacking the villagers. There was lightning and thunder clouding the sky, and the villagers screamed. There was panic all around.

Sentences like these do two things. First, they add unnecessary words to your manuscript. Second, they slow down the action significantly. They’re boring and repetitive. Try this one instead:

Men attacked the villagers. Lightning and thunder clouded the sky, and the villagers screamed in all around panic.

As you can see, it’s a little more complicated here. But in a few simple steps, we can get the previous sentence. First, delete all the “there were/there was” words from the sentence. Then make a few of the verbs active, and combine sentences to fit well together. It’s much more enjoyable to read.

Have any questions? Leave your question in the comments below, and I’ll respond as soon as possible.


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The Use and Abuse of “Like”

“Like” is probably the most abused word in the English language. We use and abuse it so much that most people seem to have forgotten what it was originally intended for.

What do you think of this sentence?

He towered over him like he was a real-life giant.

Sounds like a proper sentence to you? Eep! Wrong! That sentence is plain wrong. The “like” used in that sentence should in fact be “as if”.

He towered over him as if he was a real-life giant.

And what about the next sentence?

It’s not like I had a choice.

That sentence has been used so often that most people will probably consider it an okay sentence. WRONG. The “like” here should be replaced by “as though”.

It’s not as though I had a choice.

Do you want a simple rule? “Like” governs nouns and pronouns. When you’re talking about verbs, adverbs, adjectives, etc. use “as”, “as if”, or “as though”.

If you have more questions about the proper or improper use of “like”, leave me a comment, and I’ll reply as soon as possible.

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First Person Narrative: Attack of the I-Bombs

There are tons of agents out there who don’t accept manuscripts written in first person narrative. The reasons behind this decision vary from “it makes the writing bland” to “it sounds unprofessional” to about a gazillion other things. When clients come to me with a manuscript in first person narrative, they’re always a little wary. One client even told me his previous editor – with whom he eventually parted ways – had typed “DO NOT WRITE IN FIRST PERSON” on his manuscript in gigantic font.

My reaction to this is always “ugh? what?” Because it’s hard to believe so many people are completely against first person narrative. And why? Like with any other narrative, if it’s well written, then it’ll work. If there’s a story, well-developed characters and decent writing, then your story will work, regardless of what narrative you pick.

However, on the opposite end of the spectrum you have people advicing others to writei n first person, because it’s “easier”. I seriously doubt that. Because most, if not all writers, who use first person narrative, sooner or later fall for the I-Bombs.

What are I-Bombs, you ask?

I walk down the hallway. I search for the light switch, my hands grasping nothing but air. I let out a sigh when I finally manage to put the lights on. I continue on down the stairs. I miss the last step, and tumble down the stairs.

You see what happens here? “I this, I that, I this”. It becomes boring. It slows down the pace, and it’s, in short, unprofessional writing.

Of course now you’re going all “but Charlene, I would never write something like that!”

Trust me, you will. If you pay attention to it, you will see through this I-Bomb surprise attack most of the time, but I’ve yet to see a manuscript in first person narrative, which has not yet been professionally edited, that didn’t have the I-Bombs in there every now and then.

So, beware of the I-Bomb, and make sure you don’t start every (or most) of your sentences with “I” when writing in first person narrative.

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