One of the great features in Word, is the find and replace option. It has so many wonderful uses. One of my favorites I like to call, seek and destroy.
In my Belated Blogger Birthday post, I mentioned the problem with the "to be" verbs and how they have a tendency to drag your writing into the passive zone.
Note, I did not say they always do.
Had, Was, Were... To be or not to be, that is the question.
A year later and I am still learning about passive voice in writing. I'm not going to attempt to give advice on that subject specifically, but I will give this handy little tip.
Avoid the "to be" verbs when possible. They have a tendency to make your writing passive and they are so easily overused.
Now, I am not saying never use them, just avoid where possible. Just like all words, they do have their place in writing.
Example 1 (unnecessary had)
I surveyed the café, noticing that two strangers had sat down at one of the card tables along the painted mural wall.
The had here is unnecessary and drags the sentence into the passive zone. Lets reword.
Example 2 (no had)
I surveyed the café, noticing two, strange men sitting at one of the card tables along the painted mural wall.
Example 3 (unnecessary was)
My heart was pounding in my chest.
Sure the heart was pounding, but we could have gotten the same message in a more active sense without the word, was.
My heart pounded in my chest.
You will find, in most cases, when you are tempted to use one of the "to be" verbs, you can simply rework the sentence and avoid it.
Now, there are situations where they are perfect to use. Had, for example is a wonderful way to let the readers know the information happened in the past.
I couldn't understand why Hector refused my request. He had helped me many times before. What's stopping him now?
Here, had is used just to tell us of a previous situation. It works, as is.
Ok, now that we have recapped a little, let me tell you how, seek and destroy works.
Open up your current WIP. (if you are using WORD) Turn track changes on. (under tools, find track changes and click). Now hit Control and H (at the same time)
This brings up the find and replace window. (make sure your track changes is on before you do this.)
Start with "was". Type that into the top text box. Now, type "was" again into the second box and let it replace all.
All of those pesky Was' will now show up in red. You will probably see a lot of them.
Here is where seek and destroy works.
When self editing, we tend to miss things because we are too close to our work to notice. Track changes works like an editors, Big Red Pen, highlighting the things we need to work on.
Now that you can see the items pointed out in RED, you can go line by line and decide if they are really necessary. If they are ok, leave them be. If not, you can change them.
Rinse and repeat as necessary with any word you wish to seek out and destroy.
One of my critiquers sent me this great list of words to seek and destroy!
When done, switch your view in track changes (in the menu bar, there should be a drop down) from "final show mark up," to "final" and the red will go away, leaving your document looking normal again.