How the word “Was” Affects Telling Vs. Showing #amwriting

I must tell you that I am one that constantly wants to improve my craft.  I think we are always developing as writers, and when you find a friend that makes you better, you HANG on to that friend!  I have such a friend in author Frank Allan Rogers.  Frank is the author of an exceptional book entitled Upon A Crazy Horse, and he also edited my book Captured In Lies.  I respect Frank’s approach and I wanted to share something with you that he just recently sent to me.

One of my projects was a YA series entitled Mystic Lake Guardians.  The first book was The Haunting of Mystic Lake, and the series was about a group of 5 teens with some very special abilities who become embroiled in some pretty sticky paranormal conflicts and work to save each other and their town.  In the first book, I had a character named Logan who was a Shade.  A Shade is basically a ghost.  I was having difficulty with how I would “show” versus “tell” when the character was no longer alive and didn’t have a physical body.

Frank analyzed one of my chapters to help me with this issue.  Not only did I get some great feedback about how to approach the physical reactions of a ghost, but something else came to light as well.  In one chapter, I used the word “WAS” 64 times!  Oy!  I want to share below what Frank had to say about that.

These are Franks words:

Showing Vs Telling

“Was” is the biggest action thief ever invented. You’ll find that word 64 times in this chapter, and a few “wasn’t” words also. That writing trap is an easy one to fall into. Remember, those words are just a state of being, not action. To show your story instead of telling it, eliminate about 80 % of those. Write around them if you have to. For example, instead of saying, the moon was covered by a milky film, try, a milky film covered the moon. You’ll feel the story come to life, as if it’s happening while you read. And that’s essential to transport your reader to the time and place of your tale.

I also want to share with Frank’s suggestion on how to keep my Shade from being flat and boring.  Here was his suggestion:

Kelly, I understand the fix you’re in, about Logan experiencing human feelings and emotions without being human. But you have to use the phrases and descriptions you need for Logan; otherwise, he becomes a cardboard character. I had the same situation in chapter 1 of my novel in progress. Here’s how I handled it: August Myles knew he was no longer mortal, and yet he had not been freed from the bonds of mortality—hunger, excitement, fatigue, pain, fear, and heartache—all were as real now as they had ever been. Yes, it’s a bit of a disclaimer, but it worked for me.

 I hope this helps you improve your writing. I know it helped me.  If you have anything to add please do.  

If you want to find out more information about Frank, look at my Porch Guests page.

 Until next time…

About Kelly Abell

I am a writer, blogger, and graphic artist. My aim for you is to utilize this blog to help you improve your writing skills, and to educate you on the publishing business. If you need help with writing, want to self-publish a book and need advice, or just want to kick a story idea around to see what works best, that's what I'm here for. As I gain knowledge from editors and publishers, I will share that knowledge with you. As writers we should always strive to improve our craft and grow. A day should not pass where you haven't learned or tried something new with your writing. Many thanks to my Night Owl Friend, Lea Ellen Borg for editing my posts! Best to you and all your characters and stories. Write on, my friends...Write on.
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12 Responses to How the word “Was” Affects Telling Vs. Showing #amwriting

  1. I love it when a fresh air of eyes helps us see what appears obvious only in retrospect! You are lucky to have Frank point those out to you. Then, like a habit, we learn not to see it, do it, work around it, and the writing improves! Great post. Thanks for sharing. I may have to reblog this at my place!


  2. jackstr952 says:

    There are a number o such words – have, had, has, were, and that, just to name a “very few.” The good news is revision is easy because all you need to do is a word search on these culprits. I’ve used such a list and it greatly improves the readability of the story by substituting more powerful verbs, and changes a passive approach into a more active approach.


  3. Reblogged this on Dan Alatorre – AUTHOR and commented:
    Just in case you were wondering WHEN the learning stops… it never does (but in a good way). My Facebook friend Kelly Abell, New York Times bestselling author, explains that even at that level she’s always discovering new ways to improve her writing.

    So, when you think you are struggling or the Critique Partners are beating you up, remember: you’re still learning!

    I thought this was a great post by a terrific author, explaining a few basic concepts we all need refreshers on occasionally, and the value of a second pair of eyes looking at your work. Because if you’re always learning, you’re always improving – and that’s never a bad thing!

    Kelly’s blog has LOTS of great tips for writers of all venues. Check it out.


    • Kelly Abell says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Dan. Its a struggle to say the least. A struggle with self-confidence as well as grammar. As long we we keep trying to improve our craft, we are making strides in the right direction. No one person can know it all. I strive to learn from every writer I meet, novice or professional. That’s what makes this journey so exciting!! Thank you for the re-post. I hope people find my words useful.


  4. reocochran says:

    I am definitely one who uses similar sentence patterns and need to try more unique phrasing and better adjectives. Non-professional so less concerned at this point, but writing my blog am trying new things. My posts used to be long essays. I also tried a little in three character studies. Could practice or take a course. Nice to “meet” you!


    • Kelly Abell says:

      Nice to meet you as well. Always great to connect with more writers! Blogging is an excellent way to improve your craft and try things. I love it! You’ve inspired me to try a few new things myself. Happy writing.


  5. christinadrh says:

    Such simple and yet powerful advice, love it! Thanks for sharing.


  6. stephengeez says:

    Kim, I have a extensive section on alternatives to passive-sentence use of was in one of my Geez-Writer How-to’s that’s unpublished, but used for many years in classes I taught. When I get the series expanded to include that one, I’ll send it along. I think you’ll find it fun and interesting.


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