There's a plague in author land, and that plague is Was-itis. Overuse of the word was has spread far and wide, to the point that the three-letter word is about to become a four-letter word. And no writer, no matter how experienced, is immune. At least not in first drafts.
But what's the big deal with using "was" all the time?
Good question. There are two main problems with overusing what I call "was constructions" in writing. The first type of construction looks like this:
I was cold. I was lost. I was hungry.
It's boring, right? This type of was construction leads to boring verbs and simple adjectives, along with telling the reader everything instead of showing them and engaging them in the story. When we change it up, the story becomes more interesting:
I shivered. The trees around me all looked the same; nothing stood out to mark which way to go. As I scanned my surroundings for clues, my stomach began to grumble.
"I shivered" provokes a physical memory in the reader much more strongly than the plain statement "I was cold" does. Choosing a stronger verb takes more work, but it's worth it.
The second type of "was construction" looks like this:
I was walking through the woods. I was whistling like a bird.
These constructions are easier to fix. Most of the time you can simply eliminate the was and change the participle - the -ing verb - back to its regular form. Like this:
I walked through the woods. I whistled like a bird.
Kate did an excellent guest post a while back where she suggested switching the sentence into present tense if you aren't sure if you need to eliminate your "was" verbs. Watch what happens when I do that with the examples:
I am walking through the woods. I am whistling like a bird.
It becomes pretty obvious that these are silly things to say. There are certain cases, especially in dialogue, where you might still want to keep the was -ing form, but in general narration, most of them can be cut.
So help cure the plague of Was-itis. Cut it out wherever you find it, and pass the cure on to all the writers you know!
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