This Business of Writing

“To be? Or not to be?”

In The Craft of Writing on November 23, 2009 at 9:29 am

The Great Bard did have a way with words, didn’t he?

I’ve been studying writing for some time now and have learned a few things of note. One of those things is the existence of The Rules of Writing. Chief among them is,

“Thou Shalt Remove All Forms of the word, ‘To be.’”

During my years of study with the craft of writing, I’ve learned many such rules and I have developed my favorites. My personal selection for MVP of The Rules of Writing is that all these many rules are really no more than gentle guidelines. However, that’s another post altogether.

For years, I yearned to remove all the forms of “to be,” but, if truth be told, I was only certain of a single form of the verb. And that, of course, was, “to be” itself. And would you like to know why I didn’t know the forms of, “to be?” It’s because of its definition which reads, “A form of the verb “To be” is combined with a past participle to form the passive.”

You may understand more than I, but I do not recall, nor currently understand how to combine whatever with a past participle to form anything, let alone “the possessive.”So, vainly I sought all forms of the word, “to be” but never quite had the handle on them until recently.

Searching the Internet, I found that thing for which I’d longed these many years. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I found all forms of the word, “to be.”

Therefore, in hopes I have not been the only person on the planet with this particular issue, I would like to share them with you today. They are:

Am

Is

Are

Was

Were

Being

Been

Be

Were

Not all the sinister after all, are they? The secret, of course, is checking to see if by eliminating the verb, your writing improves. Let’s first look at the rationale for this rule, shall we? I looked the explanation as to why this rule exists and found it at http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000040.htm. Are you ready for this? “It, [to be], is normally a linking verb showing existence or the condition of the subject.”

Let me see if I have the right. We can’t use it because it states that something exists? (Is that the gist of how you read this?) If so, that doesn’t help me at all. Regardless its definition or justification, let’s take a look at the rule in use to see if it does improve one’s writing. I used the “find” feature within my word processor and copied the first sentence with the word “been” in my current manuscript.

Ketty, the woman charged with raising Jak, had been best of friends with the lad from the day he first arrived at Waters View.

I’ll try to rewrite the sentence without using the word, “been.”

Ketty, the woman charged with raising Jak, had bonded with the lad from the day he first arrived at Waters View.

Which sentence is the better of the two? When reading it aloud, the second does improve the statement to my ear. I see a much stronger action verb in, “bonded” than I do with “had been.” (By the way, using stronger verbs is another of those rules to which we are subjugated.)

Let’s try it again, shall we? This time I’ll “find” the word, “were.” The sentence that showed up first in my manuscript was,

The walls, as in the foyer, were decorated with paintings of long-departed ancestors.

Rewritten it becomes,

The walls, as in the foyer, seemed only to serve as backdrop for paintings of long-departed ancestors.

I don’t know what you think, but I think it reads better. In both cases, I deleted the form of the word, “to be” and have produced a higher quality of writing each time.

I challenge you to try the same technique, and let me know what you find. As to me, I guess I’ll rework my manuscript one more time.

Until my next post, I wish you all best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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  1. When I was in primary school, approximately two million years ago, we had a little rote piece for the verb,”TO BE”, which I’ve never forgotten. It goes like this:
    AM,IS,ARE,ART, WAS,WAST, WERE,WERT, BE,BEEN,BEING
    Chant that a few dozen times. Of course we don’t use the obsolete forms now, WASTt and WERT but how can you understand Shakespeare if you don’t realise these words were once in common usage.
    And thanks, Patrick, for an interesting and informative blog.

  2. […] This post was Twitted by kuhlcat […]

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