Trick from the Editor's Hat

Trick from the Editor’s Hat: The “Was” Edit

When editing a manuscript, one should always be looking at ways to tighten the writing and language used. There are many tricks that one can employ. Here is one that I often pull out of my hat when editing.

The “Was” Edit

This editing technique is incredibly simple: search for every instance of is/are/was/were and ask yourself if can you reword that sentence to removed that instance of was-type words.

Considering the following:
Gary was working on the wagon.
Simple:
Gary worked on the wagon.
However, it’ll gladly admit that this edit is boring and not very inspirational.

But what about something not so obvious:
He was taller than me.
To remove the was, one needs to actually add a bit of detail, turning this tell statement into show.
He stood two inches taller than me.
The only down side with above line is that it adds words. If you write word-heavy, this could be a problem.

There will be instances where the words is/are/was/were will be necessary, so one should never do a generic delete, but it’s been my experience that in seven out of ten cases, the sentence can be restructure to not only get rid of the dreaded was, but to also give the sentence that something more.

See other Tips and Tricks from the Editor.


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