fiction · Uncategorized

“To-Be” Verbs: The Irresistible Novel

I’m in a really great place with my writing. Book number one is pretty much written. I’ve dedicated my upcoming summer to sending out query letters to agents and publishing companies. I’ve also begun working on a second book (sneak peek to come soon!) In addition to my novel writing I’ve been working with my church to write and edit the quarterly magazine which highlights things God is doing in the lives of our members. It’s all really exciting stuff that I thoroughly enjoy.

Lately I’ve been doing some reading of the book The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke in order to sharpen my writing skills. Most Saturdays I’ve taken time to highlight one chapter from the book. Each chapter is about a controversial subject in the writing world. Within the chapters Gerke gives opposing viewpoints about that principle and ultimately leaves it up to the writer to make an informed decision about what to include or exclude from their writing. Today’s topic is the ever-debated “to-be” verbs.


“To-Be” Verbs

Most of us had that teacher who refused to give credit to any paper containing “to-be” verbs. Some feel strongly that these verbs should not be found in any formal writing. Many people think this way because these verbs weaken writing and should be replaced by stronger verbiage. The “to-be” verbs are is, am, are, were, was, be, being, been.

This age old argument roots itself in the state-of-being rule. “To-be” verbs fall under the umbrella of state-of-being which means that technically they represent a permanent condition. The sentence “I am hungry” actually carries the denotation that you are hungry at all times. Although current language rules and connotations go beyond the understanding of permanent state-of-being that is the root of the argument.

Throughout time writers have grown to notice how the use of “to-be” verbs weakens sentences and scenes. Oftentimes when a writer uses a “to-be” verb it holds back the text from something better (ex: “Spain is great” can be replaced with “I love the food and culture of Spain.”)

The other school of thought is that “to-be” verbs are such a part of our natural language that it destroys the authenticity of writing to eliminate it completely.

My Current Project…

If you can’t tell from this post or other writings I’ve done I tend to agree with the second argument rather than the first. While I recognize the legitimacy of the “to-be” argument I also realize that the type of writing I typically do contains the occasional “to-be” verb. When I notice that a sentence or scene weakens the text I can almost always trace the weakness back to the “to-be” verb. However, there are other instances when I leave well enough alone. As long as the verb doesn’t impede on reader interaction with my characters and plot I tend to leave them.

Some people will not agree with me. Some writers completely oppose the use of these verbs and can’t stand to read them. We all have our own preferences when it comes to reading and writing. I like to keep my “to-be” verbs as long as they aren’t taking too much away from my story. But, to each his own. The more I write the more I’m learning that rules don’t really exist. There are plenty of issues out there that a writer must be educated on in order to find their voice, but there are plenty of successful authors who disregard rules or follow them to a “T”. It’s all about preferences and style.




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