Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

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shadowwalker
 
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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby shadowwalker » Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:54 pm

I have no problem using 'was' either. But yes, the overkill is what one needs to watch for. In the example given, my opinion is that it was used too much, along with other structural problems. Even given my dislike for that kind of description, getting rid of 'was' and restructuring the sentences would make it more interesting to read.
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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby James A. Ritchie » Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:59 pm

wdarcy wrote:Right now I'm reading my third Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. Opinions on Child's writing may differ; personally, I don't feel he's much of a wordsmith. --Warren


I know this is going to sound odd, but I have no problem with Child's writing because he's English, and even attended Sheffield University. I assume you know "Lee Child" is a pseudonym, and his real name is Jim Grant.

Anyway, his writing strikes me much the same as many other British detective/crime/espionage novels, which means a bit more paid back than American novels, with more emphasis on story and character, and less on standout language.

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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby James A. Ritchie » Tue Jan 15, 2013 1:03 pm

shadowwalker wrote:I have no problem using 'was' either. But yes, the overkill is what one needs to watch for. In the example given, my opinion is that it was used too much, along with other structural problems. Even given my dislike for that kind of description, getting rid of 'was' and restructuring the sentences would make it more interesting to read.



I think it's just your dislike for that kind of description. Some things aren't supposed to be particularly interesting, just informative. I see no structural problems with the writing, and it's an extremely typical way of getting a description across without drawing attention to it. It's merely plain, simple description that doesn't take away from the real action of the book, which is something you have to be very careful about.

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EccentricKim
 
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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby EccentricKim » Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:35 pm

Personally I would try to just reorganize the sentences so "was" isn't used in every one, just for the sake of redundancy. I try to do things like make sure an action verb isn't repeated too much on the same page, and that every paragraph on the page doesn't start with the same thing, too, though. Like if every paragraph on the page starts with "I thought/said/did something" I would change it up. But again those are nitpicky things.

Like others said, technically those things aren't wrong, but if you write a paragraph and everything in it says "he was, his skin was, her skin was," etc you might want to change it later on in edits. But obviously it didn't matter in this case because it was published anyway . . . these are all just picky things.

Using "to be" verbs definitely isn't bad . . . but action verbs are just considered stronger, when possible.
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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby updog » Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:51 pm

I like the way Warren put it. Especially this:

wdarcy wrote: If I were to post an excerpt from one of his novels, I'm sure we could all have a great time re-writing it. But what would be the point? His novels are incredibly popular, and he has a large and dedicated fan base who eagerly await his next novel--which is what he would be writing while we pick apart his prose.


and this:

Like James, I get really tired of these "experts" who proclaim these hard and fast "rules" that don't really correspond to anything in successful published novels.

--Warren




I actually notice when authors are avoiding 'to be' verbs now, and I don't like it. Too much of a good thing and we all soon get sick of it. The avoidance of wases starts to draw attention to itself after a while too. Besides, imo, trying to follow all these rules is making everyone sound the same. I want variety in my fiction. :D
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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby DrG2 » Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:30 pm

James A. Ritchie wrote:This is one of those cases where the right thing to do is to first learn grammar, and then to read published novels and short stories. The most famous example of using to be verbs is probably from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. The opening paragraph reads:

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Anyone who wants to rewrite Dickens is free to do so, but I'll take his writing just as he wrote it.


I love Dickens. The problem is Dickens would have trouble getting published these days unless he changed his style a lot. Heck, I think John Updike would have a hard time getting his novels published today, if he wasn't, you know, John Updike. And he broke in only fifty years ago.

And while anyone can write any way they want, excerpts from things published in the last five years would be more indicative of what can sell, now.

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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby allz28 » Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:43 pm

Maybe I'm in a pessimistic mood, but I think most of the writers we look up to would have a hard time getting traditionally published these days. :cry:

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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby DrG2 » Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:49 pm

allz28 wrote:Maybe I'm in a pessimistic mood, but I think most of the writers we look up to would have a hard time getting traditionally published these days. :cry:


If only I had the foresight to become a celebrity before I began to write. ;)

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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby updog » Tue Jan 15, 2013 10:15 pm

DrG2 wrote:
And while anyone can write any way they want, excerpts from things published in the last five years would be more indicative of what can sell, now.


Okay. Here ya go. These are excerpts from the last three books I bought.

"The first time Miranda Blackwood checked the back of her closet for a portal to another world she was eleven. That was the year her mother died." First two sentences of Gwenda Bond's first novel Blackwood. Released 2012.

"The smell of blood was thick in the crisp morning air as Marshal Mart Duggan dismounted, his boots finding solid earth a few inches beneath the snow." Opening sentence from Lee Collins' debut novel The Dead of Winter. Released 2012. Also, from the third paragraph: "Standing up again, Duggan surveyed the clearing. Bits of clothing and strips of dripping flesh dangled from the nearby branches, but there was nothing that resembled a body. Blood-spattered snow was heaped against the tree trunks, exposing strands of yellow grass."

From page 91 of my paperback edition of Yann Martel's Life of Pi. Copyright 2001. "Animals were sedated, cages were loaded and secured, feed was stored, bunks were assigned, lines were tossed, and whistles were blown. As the ship was worked out of the dock and piloted out to sea, I wildly waved goodbye to India. The sun was shining, the breeze was steady, and seagulls shrieked in the air above us. I was terribly excited."
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DrG2
 
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Re: Grammar - The use of 'to be' verbs

Postby DrG2 » Tue Jan 15, 2013 11:16 pm

updog wrote:
DrG2 wrote:
And while anyone can write any way they want, excerpts from things published in the last five years would be more indicative of what can sell, now.


Okay. Here ya go. These are excerpts from the last three books I bought.

"The first time Miranda Blackwood checked the back of her closet for a portal to another world she was eleven. That was the year her mother died." First two sentences of Gwenda Bond's first novel Blackwood. Released 2012.

"The smell of blood was thick in the crisp morning air as Marshal Mart Duggan dismounted, his boots finding solid earth a few inches beneath the snow." Opening sentence from Lee Collins' debut novel The Dead of Winter. Released 2012. Also, from the third paragraph: "Standing up again, Duggan surveyed the clearing. Bits of clothing and strips of dripping flesh dangled from the nearby branches, but there was nothing that resembled a body. Blood-spattered snow was heaped against the tree trunks, exposing strands of yellow grass."

From page 91 of my paperback edition of Yann Martel's Life of Pi. Copyright 2001. "Animals were sedated, cages were loaded and secured, feed was stored, bunks were assigned, lines were tossed, and whistles were blown. As the ship was worked out of the dock and piloted out to sea, I wildly waved goodbye to India. The sun was shining, the breeze was steady, and seagulls shrieked in the air above us. I was terribly excited."


I'm not sure why those are relevant. I didn't suggest that all uses of "was" should be excised.

but since we are taking excepts, let me look at the beginnings of some recent things I wrote:
Roland Datura looked down on the small corpse, exploring the scene. This was the eightieth he looked upon in the last twenty years, and like the others, she had just turned nine years old.
one -ing verb, one was, and I used the verb "looked" twice. I should change that last one.

The swanboat slid across the surface of the still tropical sea like an ice skater on a frozen lake, the eight silent spectral oarsmen rowing in perfect unison. The sail hung slack in the still air.
I need to get rid of that -ing verb, not needed at all.

Joyce shuffled out of the bathroom, across the carpeted floor of her bedroom, her footie pajamas making a slick sound against the berber.
dang, another -ing verb. I should carve that into two sentences.

I’m not one to judge, much less be jury and executioner, unless I know all the pertinent facts, and I’m wise enough to know that one side of the story seldom tells you everything you need to know.
Hmm... my hick first-person narrator didn't have these problems.

Princess Elinor felt naked as she stood before her mother. She only wore a tiny pair of legless underpants, tied with a drawstring, and a delicate sleeveless shirt with a scooped collar adorned by a small ribbon evoking a pink rose.
"felt" is a verb that should be used seldom. meh, maybe it's OK here.

Duke Rumeal was a man at the top of his game. He lounged in the parlor of the house he appropriated from a former wealthy landowner; he was looking at the daily reports from his officers.
in my defense, this is literally a first draft.

Why did I post that? Besides the hope that those beginnings will cause someone to ask to read them? ;) Only to show that we should always be self-critical.

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