Category Archives: Writing the Good Story

Writing Action Scenes – Part 2

Whether or not you read the last post, I highly suggest you go (re)read it now. It is an important example.

The answer really is to write short sentences. It’s a little more than that though. The habit of Steven King’s use of one word chapters was a little excessive. You. Can’t. Just. Write. Like this. And. Get. Great. Results.

I’d like to take you back to my story for a moment. Let’s return and look at Dragons of Wellsdeep pages 8 and 9.

If you look at page 8, we start off in Moonhunter’s thoughts. The second paragraph has Moonhunter being fired upon. Except for the second-to-last sentence in the paragraph, they are all relatively short sentences or are divided by commas, which gives a feeling of a break.

The third paragraph has the sentences stretching out a bit more. It kind of feels all short and anxious, followed by a bigger span in order to breathe. Then we have Balthier’s and Moonhunter’s action and dialogue sequence. See how it starts off long and starts to get shorter as they go along. I’m increasing the page here with the white space of the page.

Now, in the last post, did you feel the intensity of it? Maybe a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more? I set up the great question, then slammed with the answer.

Bam! I have you.

It’s those short, punchy sentences where action has to take place. It locks you in. But you also have to have those longer sentences where the reader feels the space to breathe. You’re probably starting to feel a bit of the hypnotic spell here with post. At least I hope you are.

Now look at page 9 and see the sentences vary in length depending upon the emotional impact I want for the action scene.

Now, go write great action!

Is writing worthy of your life?

I have been wondering if my post last Thursday was too harsh. Maybe a little. Then I remind myself of two things:

1. When I write a blog post, I’m usually writing it for me as much as anyone else. I often find myself giving the very advice I need to hear. So did I need to give myself that advice? Yes. Not just for my writing either, but that’s another story.

2. I’ve had enough people wonder how I find the time to write when I work full-time and raise two boys by myself. I usually just shrug and reply that I have really good children who help me out a lot. But that’s only part of the answer. The full answer includes the explanation that I don’t “find” the time to write. I “make” the time. If you’re looking to find the time to write, you will never find it. You have to decide that writing is important enough for you to do it. If it’s not, then move onto other things that are worthy of your time. 

Last week I heard some great advice. The woman who gave it said that she’d been asked the question and it had helped her put some things in perspective. So now I share her advice with you:

“Today I heard some advice that I know I will use to measure the importance of my goals. The question that was asked was: Which goal is worthy of your life? Which would you trade your life for?”

So, with that being said, is writing worthy of your life? You are going to trade away hours and hours of your life to tell an elaborate lie (which is the essence of all fiction) which you hope other people will read and enjoy. Make sure you are making the best possible choice for yourself. Also realize that over time the answer to this question might change. We all go through seasons.

So, if you still know that writing is your everything, I wish you happy writing! Now go get to work on that manuscript.

When the writing gets hard

Yes, there are days when the writing gets hard. There are days when the editing gets harder.

Go on, Google all you want on creative blocks. You’ll find lots of answers.

Yes, follow all those leads if you will: read a book, take a walk, write anyway, edit anyway, blah, blah, blah.

The truth is there are just some days when you can’t do it. This blog is as much about my journey in writing as it is yours. It is my legacy. Someday someone will come along and read this and know that I’m sharing everything I know about writing with you in order to help you.

So here it is, the truth about when the writing gets hard:

Suck it up, cupcake. No job or career is fun all the time. There are times when you just have to make yourself have the discipline to step forward into the task you don’t really want to do. If you want to wait on the Muse, put down your pencil or delete all the writing files off your hard drive now. You cannot wait for anything. You only have this moment because one minute, one hour from now and it’s gone. Hard work requires discipline. If you want to have your book done, you have to do it.  Put your butt in the chair and do the work or suffer the regret later. That’s your choice.

Now I’m really going to injure those creative block lists. The thing is, they aren’t all wrong either. Sometimes you do need to step away for a moment. A moment! Half an hour or less, if you think that life won’t suck you into something else. Don’t let drama happen to you in order to procrastinate. If you think that’s going to happen, skip this paragraph and move right to the next one.

Just because you don’t want to write one book, or if you feel it’s too difficult of a scene for you to write from where you’re at in your life right now, switch to something else. Yes, you heard me. Start another project. (gasp!) I’ve found that everything cycles around. I’ve learned to listen to my Muse and what she wants to work on. Sometimes I have a schedule for a book and I have to override the Muse — but hey, who really is in control of this body anyway? When she gets a body, she can do what she wants too. Until then, I ask, “What would you like to work on?”, she answers, then I have to decide if it’s really wise or not. My decision. Then I step into discipline, put my butt in the chair, and get to work.

I generally have 2 or 3 projects going at once. My main writing projects right now are, of course, Sacred Knight and The Loki Adventures. After that, I know that I have Dragons of Wellsdeep to write for this blog. If I really don’t want to work on any of those projects, I also have the script for my Weblinks comic (which I’m also lining out at a novel when I have time and inclination), and another young adult story. I like having lots of ideas. I might not feel like working on one story at the moment, but surely there is another which I can easily lean into and work on.

If I don’t, I write anyway. Unless I really can’t. But that’s usually because I’ve gone into a cycle to draw or paint and that’s a whole other can of worms.

So write. Be disciplined, even if you don’t feel like. The Muse will sit down with you when she realizes you are serious. She usually just wants to see you get to work first.

Get to it. Happy writing.

Have you found your writing flow?

In last Sunday’s post, I mentioned how my first drafts are heavy on the action and dialogue and include minimal setting details. I didn’t figure this out overnight. In fact, I didn’t even figure it out myself. My critique partners mentioned it when they asked why I didn’t write screenplays. Both of them were very aware that I saw my stories in a cinematic fashion and I do; I see everything as if I’m watching a movie. They told me that I should stick with my strengths and let a set designer and costumer do the rest of the work.

The fact is that screenwriting is a difficult industry to get into. I certainly don’t have the connections to make it happen, not without more work than I want to put in. I’d rather do a couple more subsequent drafts of adding the detail.

Here’s a colorful tip for getting a visual on your strengths:

Take some highlighters, none that will cover up your text or make it difficult to see what you’ve written and start going through your manuscript. Color dialogue in yellow (or the color of your choosing), setting and other detail words in blue, thoughts, internalization, or point of view indicators in pink, and everything that is left will be narrative.

Let’s have an example (since I can’t highlight, I will change the font color):

Caitlyn looked out the window at the darkening sky while she parted the heavy, velvet drapes with her hands. With the sun fading behind the clouds, she could dare to open up her world some. She reached down to put on her sunglasses, which hung from a chain around her neck. Her grandmother had always kept a pair of reading glasses on this chain, but Caitlyn didn’t need cheaters like that. Dark lens were another thing.

“Ow!” complained Lucky behind her as she drew the curtain across the rod. She glanced back at him, sitting at the mahogany table with his usual pile of papers before him. He capped his hand over his eyes, shielding them from the light of the overcast day. “Did you have to go and do that?”

“If it doesn’t hurt my eyes, it shouldn’t hurt yours,” Caitlyn responded as she opened the other curtain. If only for a moment, she enjoyed feeling human again.

So I have narrative in blue, dialogue in pink, details in reddish-brown, and thoughts/internalization in green.

Now, this isn’t an exact science. Sometimes things could fall into two categories — for example, I thought “chain around her neck” could be a detail or just part of the narrative. I gave myself the benefit of the detail here.

I did write this with the intent of it being a fairly balanced piece. If you have done this exercise for several pages of your manuscript, you should find that narrative is the most common, followed by details, then dialogue, then thoughts/internalization. You’ll see here that the blue (narrative) is the most used, followed by details (6 instances), then dialogue (3 instances), and thoughts (2 instances). If you have a scene which is heavy on the dialogue, make sure you don’t have a “talking heads” scene where the participants are just talking back and forth with no action or setting details. If you are still having narrative and details, but there’s a lot of dialogue, make sure it is balanced and flowing just so it’s not all speech; break the rhythm every now and then. Again, it’s not an exact science, just an experiment to show you how you work. Once you know your own writing flow, you know what you need to work on in the next draft.

Happy writing!

When Your Details Stops the Story

Beginning and novice writers fall prey to this clever little deceiver when they suddenly realize that they hadn’t included any details in a scene. They start popping them in without thinking about their placement or they rush back during a rewrite and drop them in like they are sprinkling in raindrops. These haphazard details smear across the page and take the characters hostage at knife point to completely stop the story. Here’s a scene I see way too often:

Mary jumped out of the car and ran into the house. The little two-story cottage style abode had a white picket fence surrounding it. The lawn had been cut two days ago, and already it showed signs of needing to be watered. Shelby barked at Mary as she unlocked the door with one of the many keys on her key ring. She had about 10 on the loop, but the house key was the only golden one. Inside, the hallway was dark, despite the bright day outside. She flipped on the light and rushed inside. The new carpet squished beneath her feet. The hallway still smelled of fresh paint. A breeze, as if a window had been left open, pressed against her warm skin. She noticed a coffee cup sitting on the low table in the middle of the living room. With a shock, she noticed someone was in there, sitting casually in the recliner. She entered the room. The ornate room had red carpet that hadn’t yet been replaced. As a child, her grandmother had never let her play in the room and had hardly used it herself, so the carpet was hardly worn. All her grandmother’s nick-knacks remained on the fireplace hearth just in front of the mirror in which she could now see the reflection of the man sitting in the room. A lamp was on beside him, shining onto a book he’d pulled from the shelf beside the fireplace. He slammed it shut as Mary entered the room. The sound made her jump.

Okay, well, that’s a start. But there’s a lot that needs work. Let’s start at the top.

Mary first gets out of the car and runs into the house. Then, it’s like she backs up in reverse so we can see not only the house, but the white picket fence, the lawn, the dog, and the keys. Not only has that stopped the reader, but it’s made the reader go backwards too.

Remodeling the house might be important, especially in light of the room that Grandmother left pretty much untouched — it was a show room, one reserved for company and special occasions and otherwise not used. I got that from writing this. Did you get that sense from reading it? Possibly not. So there were thoughts of the author that the reader might not get.

Then, we have the stranger in the room. Did you notice how even after she’d realized that someone was in the house she still reflected on the carpet, the nick-knacks, and the lamp without having a reaction to him. In fact, Mary doesn’t react at all until he slams the book closed. Let me ask you: if you came home to discover a stranger in your house, would you think about these things or would you be dialing 9-1-1 already? Yeah, let’s not make our characters do things we ourselves wouldn’t do (unless there is a very good reason for it, like she knows the cops are right behind her already).

Do you also see how the details of the story are listed like facts? Starting with the keys, in describing that she has 10 of them on her ring, right on the lamp. The story has pretty much stopped in this time, except for her turning and realizing that someone is in the house — that’s the only action. All the rest are details that have stopped the story.

So, now let’s fix this:

Mary pulled the car to the curb outside of her two-story cottage style house. She pushed her way through the gate of the white picket fence, reaching down quickly to pet Shelby as he barked a greeting to her. Mary riffled through the multiple keys on the ring for the golden house key and unlocked the door. Through the darkness of the hallway, the scent of fresh paint greeted her. She flipped the light and as she turned, she noticed a coffee cup sitting on the low table in the living room. A soft breeze drifted across her face as if someone had opened a window. Her heartbeat quickened as she stepped toward the room. The new carpeting squished beneath her shoes, dampening the sound of her movement. As she drew closer, she saw a black hole on the shelf where a book had been removed from the others. She scanned quickly to see if anything else in the room had been disturbed. All of her grandmother’s nick-knacks were lined up perfectly across the fireplace mantle. She looked up into the mirror above the fireplace which reflected the rest of the room and saw him. The stranger’s eyes locked with hers. He sat in the recliner, the book in his hands. He slammed it shut, making Mary jump, as he made to stand.

First we see Mary making her way from the car to the house. We show the reader the house from the vantage point of the car and move her through the fence and into the yard. Gone now is the state of the grass — it’s not important to the scene. The dog stays, because the dog is a state of normalcy — she’s expecting to see the dog and since the dog isn’t freaking out about someone being inside the house, the reader doesn’t expect it and must wonder how someone got passed the dog. This creates suspense.

Also notice in the first example how things are separated from the rest of the story: hallway was dark, carpet squished, fresh paint smelled, etc. All these things are independent sentences on their own. But in the second example, I’ve actually blended these things into the scene. They are no longer facts being told, but have a reason for being in the story: the carpet dampens the sound of her walking, the hallway is dark to bring on a sense of foreboding, the odor of the paint greets her in another warm gesture to make her feel safe in opposition to the dark hallway. Even the items in the room are no longer facts, but clues as she discovers the stranger in her house.

I did take out the whole part about the house being her grandmother’s. It probably is important, but not here. What’s important here is Mary returning home to find a stranger.

Any time you have details in your story that are standing alone like facts being shouted from a textbook, find a way to blend them into your story. If you don’t, they stop the story.

If you’d like another example of this, check out my chapter on narrative in The Write Edit.

Until next time, happy writing.

What’s in a name?

At one time I would have thought this to be obvious advice. But this tip comes directly from a contest I judged. I talk about it (and a lot of other things) in my book, The Write Edit. The name has been changed here, but the example is real.

Let’s say you have a character and his name is Jimmy John, but everyone refers to him JJ, don’t have his mother call him Jimmy, JJ, and Jimmy John in the same conversation in a scene. Why? Aren’t you trying to let the reader know the character’s name in dialogue instead of telling it? No! A mother is going to call her son by the name which reflects her feelings at the time.

Maybe the mother despises the name JJ, that it was something his friends started calling him in school and she hated from the moment she heard it. In that case, she would always call him Jimmy or Jimmy John, depending on her feelings for each name. But she would pick one.

Or, maybe she’s the one that started calling him JJ, so she’d call him that. But then that’s what she’d call him. Now, she might call him JJ under normal circumstances and call him Jimmy John if she’s being sharp with him.

“You’re a good boy, JJ for opening the door for the lady.”

“Jimmy John, be a good boy and open the door for the lady.”

See the difference between the two. Hear the tone change? But you can’t have:

“JJ, get me the butter from the refrigerator. Oh, you’re such a good boy, Jimmy John. Now, Jimmy, I do wish you’d settle down and marry that girl, Allison. She’d be so good for you, JJ.”

Wow, does she have three people in the room? I kid you not, this was pretty much how the manuscript rolled when I judged it. I had to read it several times before I got the point that Jimmy John and JJ were the same person.

Notice how often you actually use someone’s name when you’re talking to them. Usually it’s only if you’re trying to get their attention.

“JJ, get me the butter from the refrigerator. Thank you, you’re such a good boy. I wish you’d settle down and marry Allison. She’d be so good for you.”

Doesn’t that sound more like realistic dialogue than the first?

Happy writing!

Manuscript Mechanics: Italics vs. Underline

Welcome to the showdown between italics and underlines.

Since my last couple of posts have been deep, I thought I’d go for something a little more technical on the manuscript preparation side of things.

I remember when I was writing when I was growing up. I used an old brown Smith Corona typewriter. If I was really lucky, my mother would let me use her old greet IBM typewriter. I also remember the stern advice that came from the writing magazines: don’t use italics; always underline things you want to appear in italics when you book is published. Great advice, except for two things: 1) I couldn’t change the type on my typewriter so who was this advice for (who was lucky enough to have italics), and 2) underlining wasted so much typewriter ribbon. It was the second that really irritated me. I’d even try to re-ink my ribbons, or if they were the one-time use ribbons, I’d try to rewind them. Neither ever worked very effectively, so underlining was something I really tried to avoid.

Then, sometime in the 1990’s, I bought a new Smith Corona word processor and it came with round disks that could be changed out. Here’s some pictures of a disk I just took out of my Smith Corona (yes, I still have my word processor as well as the Smith Corona computer-like machine I practically starved for in order to afford and I might even have my first Smith Corona typewriter around somewhere too — I’m such a fan-girl!):

Smith Corona reel - front side

This shows the front side of the disk. You can see that the font is Regency in a 10 point size.

Smith Corona reel - back side

 

This is the back and you can see the letters on ends of each leg. This letters would hit the ribbon and leave the imprint of the letter on the paper.

I had purchased a set of these at a thrift store and when I got home I discovered that an italic font as one of the disks. Now I could do my own italic fonts if I wanted. And I felt it was wasted because the advice was always to underline. Bummer!

But the question came up not to long ago as to why the publishers wanted underlined instead of italics on the manuscript. I mean, it’s all done by computers now days, isn’t it? Doesn’t the computer know the italic font?

Now if you Google why publishers want underline instead of italics you’ll get some strange answers (like it had to do with the spacing on typewriters, but that was from the writer’s end of it, not the publishers — why would the publisher request underlines? It’s not that publishers were trying to make the writer’s job easier as it would seem in some things I read on this) My theory is that underlining was actually for the printer, not the publisher. When the printer went to set up to publish a book on a press, the printer needed to know to change the fonts to italics. Now, imagine standing loading tiny letters onto plates all day… your eyes would get tired in no time at all. The underline helps the printer easily see when the change to italics is needed. Have you ever looked at a page and wondered if the text was actually in italics or not? Yeah, just like that.

Don’t assume that just because “everything is computerized” that it’s okay to put things in italics now. If you are trying to publish with a traditional publisher, read their guidelines. They will most likely tell you. If they don’t, stick with the underline until you are told by someone at the publishing house that italics are okay. Their eyes are tired from reading all day too, so this helps them out. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT think that you are sunshine enough to just use italics because your computer can do it and/or you think underlining is “old school.” I don’t give a flying crap! If the publisher’s guidelines don’t specify, then you go with the industry standard, which has been to underline. If you want to be part of the industry, then respect it. PERIOD!

If you are self-publishing, then don’t use the underline. You’ll waste your own time when you have to go back and put it in italics. I know; I’ve done this because old habits die hard and I kept underlining things and only caught it as I was setting up a print format for publication.  Grrr!

Okay, now get back to writing!

 

The Dreaded Word: Had

Last week I wrote about how “was” was a trigger word for a  state of being. This time I’d like to write about another trigger word: “had”

“Had” represents something that happened in the past or a quality/state of being.

He had gone to the store. He’s already been to the store in the past outside of the present moment.

She had a way with words that made it hard to tell if she was lying or not. A quality that is viewed from an outside perspective, probably gained from prior experience.

Sometimes there is no way to get around “had.” In the first example of going to the store, it might just be important that he did stop at the store, but nothing that would move the story along happened there so it’s a quick phrase and move on. Now let’s take an example from page 8 of Dragons of Wellsdeep.

Balthier had scolded him often for getting ahead of himself. 

Obviously, Moonhunter is hearing a lecture in his head because he’s heard it many times before. But do you also see how the “had” makes the story be told rather than shown? This is an important fact, that Moonhunter has been scolded before for not staying present in the moment.

I wondered if there was a way to show that lecture in this very scene. Since it just started, it might mean expanding the scene a bit earlier than where I have it currently beginning. That wouldn’t be a bad option since I never explain exactly what they are doing in this scene and since I know that their “job” is something I still have in my head but I haven’t shown the reader.

My other choice is to show it in the scene before when Moonhunter first hatches from the dragon egg. It could be his first lecture. Either way works.

When you encounter a “had,” the first thing you should ask yourself is if there is a better way of showing this in the scene and if it’s even necessary. Is it important for the reader to know he had been at the store? Could he just walk through the door with bags in his hands?

Let’s take an example:

Col had never worn boots. In fact, until today, he had never wore footwear at all. Now the balls of his feet had thick blisters that stung when he touched them.  He had things cooking for dinner, but he didn’t think he could stand at the stove long enough to stir the pots.

Let’s pretend this is the first time the character makes an appearance in the story and it’s his point of view we’re in. Let’s make this present in the scene rather than full of flashbacks.

Col grabbed a stool and carried as he hobbled back to the stove. His feet throbbed from the blisters growing on the balls of his feet.  He ought to boil those foul boots along with his dinner. He sat down to stir the pots, then raised his foot to his lap to inspect the fluid-filled bumps which stung as he touched them. If wearing footwear resulted in this pain, today would be his first and last time for those boots.

We now know that he’s never worn boots before and probably will never again if he has his way — that takes care of the “had’s” in the first two sentences. We see him touching the blisters — “had” in the third sentence. We see him actually cooking dinner — “had” in the fourth sentence. Easy enough, right?

Let’s look at another example, one that follows more along with the quality or state of being.

Lady Bridget had on a red dress which reached all the way to the floor. Her hair had been done into coiled braided and adorned with little red teacup roses. She looked around the room once. Her eyes landed on Sir Arthur and her face lit with glee as she started over to him. Hadn’t she had enough of him already?

I’ve seen the first two sentences of that example written out by many authors as an attempt to show what the character is wearing. How often do you think about what you are wearing when you’re not looking in a mirror or someone is commenting you on your appearance? Yeah, not much. So why do authors insist on doing this? More on this topic later too.

I’ve clearly made this an outside perspective here because I want to use it as an example of such. Let’s make this better:

Lady Bridget entered the ballroom in a red dress which swept over the marble floor. It swished around as she stopped to look around the room. Little red teacup roses adorned the coiled braids of her brown hair. Her gaze landed on Sir Arthur and her face lit with glee as she started over to him. How would he crush her heart tonight? Why did the whole of the kingdom have to bear to watch it happen again?

Damn, I almost feel sorry for the narrator as he watches this stupid git throwing herself into pain’s way again. I’ll tell you, I had a hard time keeping it out of becoming a first person narrative, but that tells me how immediate it was in my mind as I was writing.

If these posts are helping you, please consider becoming a subscriber on my Patreon page and let other writers know about this blog. Every author that comes here and learns something new is a win for them. Everyone who supports me shows me that they appreciate what I’m doing here. Even a $1 per month shows me that I have someone’s vote — that someone wants me to continue my mission here. I believe it’s important. Don’t you?

Until next time, happy writing!

The Dreaded Word: Was

***Warning: if you really like to read books, don’t read this post. It will forever ruin you. If you want to improve your writing, then read on, but know that you will never be able to look at another published fiction book with the same eyes. You have been warned.***

I so wanted to make this my first post because this is one of my biggest pet peeves. I did refrain, however.

I’m sure I will come back to this again and again, especially once I really get into the heat of editing Dragons of Wellsdeep, but I wanted to give you a new tool to get you started on your own editing now.

My big pet peeve: the overuse of the word “was.”

Please note that I did say “overuse.” There are some people out there that insist that all instances of the word “was” in a manuscript should be eliminated. I can tell you that it is possible to write a whole book without “was.” I made this my challenge when I wrote The Three Books. There is not a single “was” within the narrative (there are a few in the dialogue because I didn’t want to change how the characters spoke) until the very last sentence. That finishing line contains the only narrative “was” in the whole book.

***Disclaimer: This is true for the 1st edition. I can’t swear it is for the second edition when I rewrote a couple scenes. I never checked, but I’m so use to writing around the “was” that I’m fairly certain there are none there.***

I am not a believer that the word should be totally eliminated. It is like any other word and needs to be used correctly.

“Was” is an indicator word. When you see “was” in your manuscript, it is a clue that your story is being told rather than shown. It generally indicates a state of being for something: It was a dark and stormy night; she was beautiful; the car was locked.

Here’s a hard and fast rule I want you to remember: Never use “was” in the first paragraph of your story.

I pick up books and flip to the beginning. If it has a prologue, I look at that the first two paragraphs for the word “was.” If I don’t see it there, I look at the first chapter for the same thing. If I find a “was” I decide if that was really the best course of action or if it could have been written better. If I find that I could have easily rewritten it, I put the book down on the shelf; the author doesn’t know his/her craft. If I deem it as totally necessary (and that is a rare instance), I begin to read. If I quickly start encountering more of the dreaded “was” word, I probably will put the book down unless it has a good hook.

Why do I tell you flat out to avoid was, especially when it is so prevalent in literature through the ages and in today’s genre writing? Because it’s generally unnecessary. A bit of clever rewriting will fix the situation. Yes, you are trying to show the hero at home, so shouldn’t that be your state of being for your character at that time? No! You’re trying to hook your reader into your story. Giving them a state of being with a “was” doesn’t show the character in action to make change. You need the flux of the action.

Let’s look at an example:

It was a dark and stormy night. The train was late and the rain about to set in. Frank glanced at his watch. It was only 8:00. He still had time. 

Okay, let’s fix this overabundance of “was.”

From the station platform, Frank looked at the clouds darkening the sky overhead and hoped it wouldn’t rain. He glanced at his watch. He still had time if the weather didn’t delay his train any longer. 

This still isn’t a perfect beginning, but it does clean up the instances of “was.” 

Here’s another:

Where was the book? Kim knew it had to be there somewhere. She’s put it at the bottom of her dresser drawer, right beneath her blue jeans, but it wasn’t there. She frantically jerked ever drawer out and overturned it, throwing them aside in her haste to search. Everything else was there: her diary, her jar of change, and a stray barrette. 

This is actually a modified sample from a real book. I’ve changed things up, but it’s still a good sampling. Let’s fix this.

Kim jerked the drawer from the dresser and dumped the contents onto the floor. She kicked at the clothes that fell out, hoping with each heartbeat that her foot would contact the solid weight of the book she had to find. Disappointed, she pulled out a second draw and overturned it. This time, she did feel something heavy drop. Tossing the emptied drawer onto the bed, she dropped to her knees and frantically searched. Her jar of loose change clattered as it rolled a ways across the carpet. She threw aside a stray barrette as she reached for the larger item hidden in the middle of her pile of blue jeans. Her fingers found the binding of a book’s spine. Momentary relief faded to dread panic as she realized she’d found her diary. 

Same information, but do you see how the action intensified? That’s because the story is more immediate by the action being shown rather than dulled as a state of being. 

Now, I want you to go out and start searching for “was” in your own work and others and I challenge you to make it better. It doesn’t take long to learn how to make it better. Now, when I really get into editing Dragons of Wellsdeep, I’ll have more tricks for you on how to fix “was”, but here you’ve had a sampling. If you accept the challenge and start being a “was” seeker, you’ll probably learn most of them on your own. Take your new tools with you and go write better.

Happy writing.