Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Defense of "Was"

We've all heard it, right? Avoid all "to be" verbs. They weaken your writing. Find a stronger verb.

I've used Dickens as a defense. "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 . . ." I've also heard that countered with, "But he wrote like 500 years ago." The person I was talking with wasn't all that bright, I admit.

Okay, here's one that's a little more current. From the best-seller "The Girl Who Played with Fire." We have learned that Lisbeth Salander has a twin sister. A twin sister quite different from Lisbeth, if only twenty minutes younger. Here is what Larsson writes:

"Lisbeth was first. Camilla was beautiful." 

Six words, two of them "was," that made me stop and say, "Wow." Didn't need much more than that to tell me volumes about these two.

And another thing about this, Larsson is not only using the dreaded to-be verb, but he's telling not showing. And it's better. He could have gone on for pages, and would have had to, to show us the same thing he tells us in six words.

I read a lot of criticisms about The Millenium Trilogy" that centered on Steig Larsson's story-telling style. That he tells too much, and this keeps the reader at arm's length. I must have short arms, because I've been right there with Blomqvist and Salander through two books, and I made sure I had the third on hand before I finished the second.

Your mileage may vary when it comes to the trilogy.  However, the next time you're struggling to get through a passage in a book (whether reading or writing), check to see if maybe that act of showing is what's slowing it down. Perhaps a line or two of telling could get the point across better and let you get on with the rest of the story.

Just saying.

Monday, March 21, 2011

And Another Thing

I learned about writing from Joss Whedon.

5)      People may assume things about you, based on your writing

If you didn’t get it from the previous points, I will say flat out, “I love Joss Whedon.”  His shows are fun and exciting to watch.

However . . .

He seems to repeat a certain pattern.  Namely, the teenage girl/young woman with superhuman strength.  Buffy as in The Vampire Slayer and River in Firefly can both take out a room full of men three times their size.  Echo in Dollhouse can be programmed to do just about anything.

Also, the vampire, Angel, has been cursed with a soul by a group of gypsies.  He will become evil again if he experiences a moment of true happiness.  Does he revert to evil when he saves the love of his life?  Nope.  When his son—a miracle he never thought possible—is born?  Nope.  He becomes evil after having sex with the girl he loves. 


In any case, Joss Whedon has given us a lot of wonderful characters and amazing stories.  If he never wrote another thing, he’d be well ahead of most of us.  And it would be a shame. 

I’d love to write one character who is as fully realized as most of Joss’.  Something to aspire to.