If you’re expecting a blog post on how to change your story from inactive “to be” verbs to action packed, running-jumping-climbing-trees verbs, go here. What I’m going to talk about is a pet peeve of mine: the shift away from the mean and nasty “to be” verbiage.
Anyone who started writing within the last decade or so has heard at least one, if not ALL, of their editors/critiquers call them out on their use of “to be” verbs. The editor/critic will point out how weak a sentence, and ultimately a story, sounds if you only use to be verbs. That using to be verbs is a sign of an amateur, a bad writer, a lazy writer.
The outcome? To be verbs are banished as ugly redheaded step children of the English language. Your story goes from ho-hum to fast-paced, cutthroat, on a one way crazy train trip with a ticket to Adrenaline-ville.
This creates two problems.
1. Tires the Reader
Ever read Hunger Games? At least the first one? Or any new popular YA (YA seems to be notoriously devoid of to be verbs)? Doesn’t it feel like you’re watching The Avengers???? You want a decent read that keeps you hooked, and you end up at the edge of the bed, pissing yourself because you can’t stop long enough to find a toilet!
Yes, books should be engaging. They should hook you. They should keep you reading. But they should also be BOOKS! You can be engaged in something that doesn’t send your blood pressure into comma inducing levels and leave you with the fear of a stroke just around the corner.
Think Haruki Murakami. He’s a new author. So you can’t argue he’s part of the old school methodology. His books are still page turners, even to the average reader. But why? The action isn’t a Sandra Bullock movie about a bus with a bomb on it. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle opens with a man making pasta for Christ sake (by sake I mean the rice wine…nerd!). Still you’re pushed to keep reading. Why? Because it’s well written!
The lesson: Don’t confuse “know your ‘to be’ verbs” for GOOD WRITING.
2. Nobody likes reading the old style of NORMAL writing anymore.
This one saddens me. I read a lot. And I read a lot that was written in the last 3 decades. But I rarely read the fast-paced, bite your fingernails, sort of book. Most of what I read is literary, or at least upmarket that borders on literary. For instance, Saramago, Marquez, Murakami, Rushdie, and El Saadawi.
All these authors write with writing and storytelling and purpose in mind. I’m not a reader who likes to “escape” in the traditional sense. I have TV for that. Reading should be enjoyable, but also, a very big ALSO, be a learning and growing experience. If it’s not, you’ve just read shit.
That said, some fast-paced stuff is good. I’m thinking the first installment of Hunger Games. Good book. Had substance. Fast-paced. Thirteen Reasons Why. Same idea. Books like this exist. But are rare.
Saddest part is that the GOOD books are being pushed aside by avid readers because there isn’t enough Reality TV involved. I’m worried that good books will actually stop being written because of this rush to the bottom.