Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Was Clusters" and How To Get Rid Of Them

Earlier this week Kristen Lamb introduced me to "was clusters", and I was ecstatic when she went into detail on what "was clusters" are and how to get rid of them in her most recent post, Ten Ways to Tighten Your Writing & Hook the Reader. She says:
"The biggest red flag to me as an editor is an infestation of the word “was.” This is a major indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one? Fairly safe to assume the trend will continue.
Do a Was Hunt. See too many of those buggers together? Time to kill.
It was barely dawn and Lulu was sitting on the couch. She was waiting for her father who was already hours late. This was unusual for him. He was always punctual. A crack that was deafening made her scream and moments later the door was kicked in by the police who barked orders for her to get down on the floor.
Predawn light spilled into the room where Lulu sat, waiting for her father to be home. He was never late. Ever. A deafening crack made her scream. Police kicked in the door and ordered her to the floor."
My novel is in present tense, so I went on an "is cluster" hunt instead. Here are five examples I found in my writing, and how I fixed them (partly with the help of this article by Thomas King as well).

He is also carrying a large, black bag.
He also carries a large, black bag. 

Something about him makes me pause. He is young, and wearing loose gray pants and a gray sweatshirt.
Something about the young man and his loose, gray pants and gray sweatshirt makes me pause. 

The recovery unit is one of the less desirable jobs, since it takes people away from the hustle of city life and their families.
The recovery unit, one of the less desirable jobs, takes people away from the hustle of city life and their families.

I can see him clearly through the slats. My hiding place
is too open.
I can see him clearly through the slats. Exposed, I crouch down further. 

I think the hardest part for me is when what follows the to be verb is an adjective. 
Timothy King recommends to
"look at what’s in the sentence’s predicate. If it’s an adjective, see if you can change it into a verb. So for example, the infamous, “She was sad.” Change this into: “[Something] saddened her.” You may need to make up the “something,” or combine this clause with another sentence in order to make it work."
But how do I do that with a sentence like, "I dig and my hand brushes something metal. Am I that lucky? No, it's too big to be my phone." ? Too big can't be changed into a verb. The last thing in King's article says,
"In general, focus on the action. Start by asking yourself what action the sentence is conveying. That determines what verb dominates the sentence. Then you can arrange the other concepts of the sentence around that verb, usually in a “Something action [something else]” form."
What is the action in this sentence? How does she know the object is too big? Well, she must be feeling it somehow. There's my verb. 

I dig and my hand brushes something metal. Am I that lucky? No. I wrap my fingers around the object, too big to be my phone.

Voila. Job done. 

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