I’ve spent the past ten days de-was-ing my third manuscript. It’s quite humbling. I think I’m finally getting the hang of writing, then I take on an editing chore like that and discover I still have much to learn.
First, I never knew there was anything wrong with “was.” (See? Wases proliferate when you aren’t paying attention. And what is the plural of was? Wases or wasses?)
Second, I have a hard time finding replacements. Some wases are easy to remove — change from passive to active voice. For example, this “was” was easy to fix: The gun was aimed at the old men. I merely switched to active voice: He aimed the gun at the old men. Eureka! One sentence de-was-ed. Sounds simple? Perhaps. Unless there are a thousand wases. I’ve found as many as a dozen on a single page, though to be fair, I’ve also found a page or two without any wases.
How many wases are acceptable? There is a philosophy of writing/speaking/thinking called E-prime (for English-prime) that says all form of the verb “to be” should be abolished. Nothing exists “out there” independent of a viewer, and all things are in a state of flux. To say the apple was red eliminates the witness, and not all witnesses see the apple as red. Does a color-blind person? Does a cat? Does a bee? Also, to say the apple was red ignores the stages of growth when the apple was green (unripe) or brown (rotten). But to say the apple looked red or some such makes a person/character sound uncertain about their ability to tell the color of the apple.
I’m not going to bore you with a discussion of E-prime (though if you understand E-prime, feel free to bore me; I’d like to understand it better). I just mentioned E-prime as one of the problems of de-was-ing a manuscript. Eliminating all wases seems impossible, yet which to keep? And how do you eliminate was in a sentence such as: He was a lawyer? You can change it to: He worked as a lawyer but that makes him sound as if perhaps he wasn’t really a lawyer. And how do you say: “When I was young, I liked to ride my bike”? Perhaps: “In my youth, I liked to ride my bike.” But few people talk like that, and it makes dialogue seem stilted and unreal.
So, I gradually de-was my manuscript the best way I know how, and hope that the remaining wases don’t detract from the story.
How do you deal with your wases?
What are your editing woes?
The group No Whine, Just Champagne will be discussing was and woes during our Live Chat on Thursday, March 12th at 9:00 p.m. ET. Hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, feel free to discuss them here.