There Was/Were – Avoid These Bad Boys

Why there was/were should be excised from your writing.

There was a bad habit I had to overcome in my writing. It’s in the sentence I just wrote – using ‘there was/were.’

These phrases are just weak writing. They’re wordy and slow the pace of the story. Also, they create a distance from your point of view character, and take the ‘activeness’ out of your writing.

Other than perhaps in dialogue, there was/were – or if you write present tense there is/are – should not appear.

Consider these examples:

OLD: There were towers and turrets rising high in the air, and she gazed up at them in awe. Along the back wall, there was a curved staircase going down into a small courtyard.

NEW: Towers and turrets rose high in the air, and she gazed up at them in awe. Along the back wall, a staircase curved down into a small courtyard.

I hope you can see the wordiness in that brief example, and how this would slow the pace of your story. It can also distance your readers from your character.

So go to it, eliminate those bad boys from your manuscript. And be glad we have computers to do searches for us – can you imagine the old days when we wrote longhand or on typewriters?

originally published in The Sword Review 2005-08-30

(article revised before republishing)

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