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What's The Thing About 'That', 'Was' and 'ing'? (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Mentor
I always feel pushed from pillar to post when these little devils are brought up in critiques. What is the actual deal (in general) for these? Is it to remove them entirely, if you can, or to use them judiciously. I ask this because I've recently been listening to audio books by Clive Barker and I'm noting quite a few of them.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Use them judiciously.

* Google "Filler words". 'That' is one of them. I'd say more than half the time you type 'that', you can simply delete it and the sentence reads as well or better.

* It's not just "was", it's "to be" verbs in any tense. They're Copulas, and you'll read about "copula spiders", which refer to too many copulas on one page. "To be" verbs aren't the only copular verbs: verbs which do not express action ... they express state of being.
https://writingexplained.org/grammar-dictionary/copular-verb

* By "ing", I'm guessing you mean using a present participle, which you find paired with copular verbs.

'He was swimming across the canal' versus 'He swam across the canal'.

I often find present participles after a copula, which you can fix by simply dropping the "ing" and getting rid of the copular verb, as above.

Dumping copular verbs entirely isn't necessary. You don't want them in every sentence, though, since they carry no action. But you don't always need action.

"The room was a dark, dreary place." It's descriptive. You could make it action: "Joe found the room to be dark and dreary,", but then if you're going to add more description, you can't start every sentence with "Joe found".

You just don't want to have your action lapse into that. "Joe was exploring the house, and found a dark, dreary room. As he was looking around it, he was noticing cobwebs in the corner. There was a groaning sound from the wall, and he was nervous when he heard it."

I've read stuff like that from inexperienced writers, and you can tell it's awful. So that's what you're taking care to avoid.

Here's the good news. All of the above (plus more), happens in your first draft--it sure does in mine--though less and less the more I write. Weed it out in some iteration of revision.
 
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TheMightyAz

Mentor
Use them judiciously.

* Google "Filler words". 'That' is one of them. I'd say more than half the time you type 'that', you can simply delete it and the sentence reads as well or better.

* It's not just "was", it's "to be" verbs in any tense. They're Copulas, and you'll read about "copula spiders", which refer to too many copulas on one page. "To be" verbs aren't the only copular verbs: verbs which do not express action ... they express state of being.
https://writingexplained.org/grammar-dictionary/copular-verb

* By "ing", I'm guessing you mean using a present participle, which you find paired with copular verbs.

'He was swimming across the canal' versus 'He swam across the canal'.

I often find present participles after a copula, which you can fix by simply dropping the "ing" and getting rid of the copular verb, as above.

Dumping copular verbs entirely isn't necessary. You don't want them in every sentence, though, since they carry no action. But you don't always need action.

"The room was a dark, dreary place." It's descriptive. You could make it action: "Joe found the room to be dark and dreary,", but then if you're going to add more description, you can't start every sentence with "Joe found".

You just don't want to have your action lapse into that. "Joe was exploring the house, and found a dark, dreary room. As he was looking around it, he was noticing cobwebs in the corner. There was a groaning sound from the wall, and he was nervous when he heard it."

I've read stuff like that from inexperienced writers, and you can tell it's awful. So that's what you're taking care to avoid.

Here's the good news. All of the above (plus more), happens in your first draft--it sure does in mine--though less and less the more I write. Weed it out in some iteration of revision.

This is great, cheers. I think I'm overthinking you know. I tend to instinctively work around these problems anyway but, because it's always there, nagging in my head, every time I put in an 'ing' or a 'that' or a 'was' I feel as if I'm doing something wrong. It pulls me up and stops me writing. And that's BAD.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Use them judiciously.

* Google "Filler words". 'That' is one of them. I'd say more than half the time you type 'that', you can simply delete it and the sentence reads as well or better.

See now that is so interesting, because I often find myself going back and adding 'that'. So are there no rules here?

* It's not just "was", it's "to be" verbs in any tense. They're Copulas, and you'll read about "copula spiders", which refer to too many copulas on one page. "To be" verbs aren't the only copular verbs: verbs which do not express action ... they express state of being.
https://writingexplained.org/grammar-dictionary/copular-verb

* By "ing", I'm guessing you mean using a present participle, which you find paired with copular verbs.

'He was swimming across the canal' versus 'He swam across the canal'.

Is it ok to combine them in one sentence?

"He was swimming across the canal, as he looked around to see."

I often find present participles after a copula, which you can fix by simply dropping the "ing" and getting rid of the copular verb, as above.

Dumping copular verbs entirely isn't necessary. You don't want them in every sentence, though, since they carry no action. But you don't always need action.

"The room was a dark, dreary place." It's descriptive. You could make it action: "Joe found the room to be dark and dreary,", but then if you're going to add more description, you can't start every sentence with "Joe found".

You just don't want to have your action lapse into that. "Joe was exploring the house, and found a dark, dreary room. As he was looking around it, he was noticing cobwebs in the corner. There was a groaning sound from the wall, and he was nervous when he heard it."

I've read stuff like that from inexperienced writers, and you can tell it's awful. So that's what you're taking care to avoid.

What's better? "Joe was exploring the house,and found a dark dreary room, as he looked around". There was a groaning sound that came from the wall, which made him nervous." Or is that just as amateur?

Here's the good news. All of the above (plus more), happens in your first draft--it sure does in mine--though less and less the more I write. Weed it out in some iteration of revision.
This is really good stuff, for those of use who didn't come up from the English stream. Thank you!
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
(1) See now that is so interesting, because I often find myself going back and adding 'that'. So are there no rules here?

(2) Is it ok to combine them in one sentence?
"He was swimming across the canal, as he looked around to see."

(3) What's better? "Joe was exploring the house,and found a dark dreary room, as he looked around". There was a groaning sound that came from the wall, which made him nervous." Or is that just as amateur?

(4) Thank you!

(1) Only that ;-) you want to avoid filler words. But anywhere you didn't originally write 'that', you probably don't need to go back and add it. I found an example from later in the scene I included in your humor thread:
(a) I stepped around to her side, and sensed that Athena wasn't eager to further divide her attention with more conversation.
(b) I stepped around to her side, and sensed Athena wasn't eager to further divide her attention with more conversation.

I just cut it from my draft. I had a hard time finding another example, because I do a decent job not writing them now.

https://www.grammarcheck.net/filler-words/

(2) LOL It's a question I ask myself. While I made straight A's in English, I have to rehab grammar when discussing some particulars. I haven't been able to find a detailed discussion, but this blog at least mentions it:
https://www.onlinegrammar.com.au/to...ombine the active,will sell (active) tomorrow.

When I do it, I convince myself that the active independent clause buys the passive independent clause for me. :)

(3) Joe discovered a side door open and gently pushed it. A loud creak betrayed his effort at stealth. He decided to enter and explore anyway. At the back of the central hallway he found the room his friend had described. Diffused daylight through rents in the deteriorating curtains left the room dark ... dreary. A groaning sounded from the back wall, and he jumped as it interrupted the silence. Gooseflesh rose on his arms.

*** All active voice, plus some showing.

(4) If I can help, I'm happy to.
 
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vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
This is great, cheers. I think I'm overthinking you know. I tend to instinctively work around these problems anyway but, because it's always there, nagging in my head, every time I put in an 'ing' or a 'that' or a 'was' I feel as if I'm doing something wrong. It pulls me up and stops me writing. And that's BAD.

I had some advantage over what you're going through, but I've been down that road. I wrote 2.5+ million words of fiction before I tackled my first novel. In general, I (mostly) completed it before I started worrying about filler words and passive voice and backstory and exposition and adverbs and extra adjectives and dialogue tags and complex sentences and clarity and clichés and overworked words and exclamation points, to name a few things writers need to hone.

My advice is not sweat them in your first "first draft". There's nothing wrong with looking at the sentence you just wrote and deciding if it could be a better sentence, and I always recommend "It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences" by June Cassagrande for anyone concerned they need to learn more about writing effective sentences. But you will not write a perfect first draft (or second, etc.).

You get to tackle all these issues in revision. On my first novel, I did one revision to get rid of excess exclams. One to delete excessive 'that's. One to weed out adverbs. With software, those types of technical revisions go quickly and yield good results. The more experience you get fixing these things in revision, the less often you'll write them in the first place. I did a LOT of research after my first novel's first draft, because I wanted to polish it as best I could. I would up with eight rounds of technical revision of the sort mentioned, and one revision to make sure plot elements were consistent.

For me, the best way to quash doubt was to do the research and learn more about the craft. Once you find a specific weakness and start to fix those sentences, you gain confidence. But never think any of the things you mentioned are mistakes to write. They are mistakes in some places, or if they are overused. Lean on your experience as a reader. You know what "reads well". Let that influence you.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I had some advantage over what you're going through, but I've been down that road. I wrote 2.5+ million words of fiction before I tackled my first novel. In general, I (mostly) completed it before I started worrying about filler words and passive voice and backstory and exposition and adverbs and extra adjectives and dialogue tags and complex sentences and clarity and clichés and overworked words and exclamation points, to name a few things writers need to hone.

My advice is not sweat them in your first "first draft". There's nothing wrong with looking at the sentence you just wrote and deciding if it could be a better sentence, and I always recommend "It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences" by June Cassagrande for anyone concerned they need to learn more about writing effective sentences. But you will not write a perfect first draft (or second, etc.).

You get to tackle all these issues in revision. On my first novel, I did one revision to get rid of excess exclams. One to delete excessive 'that's. One to weed out adverbs. With software, those types of technical revisions go quickly and yield good results. The more experience you get fixing these things in revision, the less often you'll write them in the first place. I did a LOT of research after my first novel's first draft, because I wanted to polish it as best I could. I would up with eight rounds of technical revision of the sort mentioned, and one revision to make sure plot elements were consistent.

For me, the best way to quash doubt was to do the research and learn more about the craft. Once you find a specific weakness and start to fix those sentences, you gain confidence. But never think any of the things you mentioned are mistakes to write. They are mistakes in some places, or if they are overused. Lean on your experience as a reader. You know what "reads well". Let that influence you.

I revise as I go, and that's the main problem. I can't write so much as a paragraph without reading it out loud, changing it again and again before moving on. It stymies my flow and completely disrupts forward thinking. I know some authors do this, D Koontz springs to mind, but it's a habit I personal can't afford, especially when I'm trying to get back in the swing of things. And even though I revise constantly, I'll go back over every single thing I've written and revise again. God only knows how many times I've revised 'The Broken Tulip' by now, but I'm absolutely certain it's too many times ... and I haven't even finished the darn thing. I will get it done. That is also certain. It's just that I recall a time when I was in full flow and words were coming to be from nowhere, entering my head with little thought. I want to get back there and ignore this damned critique on my shoulder. Another thing is my vocabulary. Good lord has it shrunk!
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I revise as I go, and that's the main problem. I can't write so much as a paragraph without reading it out loud, changing it again and again before moving on. It stymies my flow and completely disrupts forward thinking. I know some authors do this, D Koontz springs to mind, but it's a habit I personal can't afford, especially when I'm trying to get back in the swing of things. And even though I revise constantly, I'll go back over every single thing I've written and revise again. God only knows how many times I've revised 'The Broken Tulip' by now, but I'm absolutely certain it's too many times ... and I haven't even finished the darn thing. I will get it done. That is also certain. It's just that I recall a time when I was in full flow and words were coming to be from nowhere, entering my head with little thought. I want to get back there and ignore this damned critique on my shoulder. Another thing is my vocabulary. Good lord has it shrunk!

My current habit is I write a scene, look back over it once to dress up nagging errors, then read it aloud to my wife, but I could read it aloud to myself. I'll pick up on a few other things when I do that. Then it's on to the next scene, and don't look back.

I read some advice to "write any crap" and fix it in revision. I'm not a fan of that, but you, my friend, need a happy medium. :) I think I learn more when I write a better sentence "live" than if I revise it later. I learn both times, but I think the best way for me to write it "right" in the first place is to do just that. So, yes, I revise as I write, but only to a reasonable extent.

It sounds like you could very easily over-revise until you lose the spark which made you want to write the story in the first place. I don't think what you're going through is uncommon. I've been through it, and I've read other authors discuss it. So you're going to have to instill some self-discipline. Write a scene, go over it no more than twice, and do what you want those two times, then take a deep breath and move on to the next scene. Control that urge to scroll up again. ;-)

And keep a browser up with thesaurus.com in a tab while you're writing. What you think is shrinking vocabulary is putting too much attention on technical details so that it's suppressing your creativity, which has a lot to do with the wordsmith side of writing.

I think I discussed this in my article about Pro Writing Aid. I put a popular book by a famous author through that software and compared it to the book I'd just finished writing. We had the same scores for things like adverbs, passive voice, etc. Don't take that to mean my writing was so good I transcend those elements. What it means is that even the best authors have that stuff in immensely entertaining prose.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
My current habit is I write a scene, look back over it once to dress up nagging errors, then read it aloud to my wife, but I could read it aloud to myself. I'll pick up on a few other things when I do that. Then it's on to the next scene, and don't look back.

I read some advice to "write any crap" and fix it in revision. I'm not a fan of that, but you, my friend, need a happy medium. :) I think I learn more when I write a better sentence "live" than if I revise it later. I learn both times, but I think the best way for me to write it "right" in the first place is to do just that. So, yes, I revise as I write, but only to a reasonable extent.

It sounds like you could very easily over-revise until you lose the spark which made you want to write the story in the first place. I don't think what you're going through is uncommon. I've been through it, and I've read other authors discuss it. So you're going to have to instill some self-discipline. Write a scene, go over it no more than twice, and do what you want those two times, then take a deep breath and move on to the next scene. Control that urge to scroll up again. ;-)

And keep a browser up with thesaurus.com in a tab while you're writing. What you think is shrinking vocabulary is putting too much attention on technical details so that it's suppressing your creativity, which has a lot to do with the wordsmith side of writing.

I think I discussed this in my article about Pro Writing Aid. I put a popular book by a famous author through that software and compared it to the book I'd just finished writing. We had the same scores for things like adverbs, passive voice, etc. Don't take that to mean my writing was so good I transcend those elements. What it means is that even the best authors have that stuff in immensely entertaining prose.

Indeed. At first though, it was a conscious decision because I saw it as a way of forcing me to get back in the flow. The idea was to get that 'inner' voice back with a reasonably long short story, and then I'd be good to go with the next sizeable project. It could well be the case, but I won't know until I've finished this and then begin writing my next. I'm definitely blowing some major cobwebs away in the process though. At least I have that.

edit: I keep darting from here back to my story to adjust things. lol. Perhaps it's just me and I should embrace it.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Indeed. At first though, it was a conscious decision because I saw it as a way of forcing me to get back in the flow. The idea was to get that 'inner' voice back with a reasonably long short story, and then I'd be good to go with the next sizeable project. It could well be the case, but I won't know until I've finished this and then begin writing my next. I'm definitely blowing some major cobwebs away in the process though. At least I have that.

edit: I keep darting from here back to my story to adjust things. lol. Perhaps it's just me and I should embrace it.

I think that's a great strategy. Warm up like a tennis pro. :)

I go the other way around. If I'm stuck on something in my novel, I jump in here to see if there's something interesting. Sometimes while I'm interacting here, it gets my mind off the novel and the idea I need breaks out.
 
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