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October 28, 2014

Be Specific in Your Writing


Being specific is important to help your readers understand what is going on and what you’re trying to tell them.

You can be more specific by cutting out these phrases at the beginning of sentences:

·         There was/were (For past tense.)
·         There is/are (For present tense.)
·         It was

Example: There was a loud bang at her front door that made her jump.
Better: A loud bang at her front door made her jump.

Example: There is nothing better than a cold coke on a hot summer day.
Better: Nothing is better than a cold coke on a hot summer day.

Image by Chrys Fey.

To rewrite a sentence that starts with “it,” you need to figure out what “it” refers to. Whatever that is needs to be replaced by “it.”

Example: “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Better: The night was dark and stormy.

I sometimes start sentences with “it was” if the previous sentence states what I’m referring to by “it.” But I try not to do this very often.

SHARE: Your tips for being more specific.




52 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm probably not as diligent with 'is,' but I do try to eliminate 'was' whenever possible. Those examples make them even easier to spot.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's why I have a sign by my desk that says "Stop the WASes."

Chrys Fey said...

I try to eliminate "was" as much as I can, too. Those examples are the easiest to spot and fix.

Chrys Fey said...

Don't worry, I still have a problem with those WASes. lol

Anonymous said...

I always have problems writing but your tips are great to remember,

"Doom and gloom was evident as the hurricane was on it's way".

Chrys Fey said...

Oh, that was so good! I love that you changed the storm to a hurricane. :D Thanks for participating!

Sarah Foster said...

I have such a problem with how many times I use "was" in my writing. Luckily there's Ctrl+F to find them all, but figuring out how to rewrite all those sentences can be tricky.

Ok, I'm gonna try this. *cracks knuckles* "Black clouds drifted across the moon, threatening to burst as a crack of thunder shook the earth."

Chrys Fey said...

Figuring out how to rewrite them is tricky. I even struggle with it.

You created such a wonderful scene with that sentence! :D

Lisa Thomson said...

The ink, black sky lit up for mere seconds with flashes of lightening and crashing thunder.

Fun post, Chrys!

emaginette said...

Excellent advice :-)

Anna from Shout with Emaginette

Pat Hatt said...

I don't think I use them too often. Ones I had to get rid of were "just" and "seemed"

I just seemed to like them lol

Kiersi said...

This is a really fantastic and yet simple rule! I've always wanted to know how to eliminate those "its" and "theres."

My favorite rule is to cut all "just" and "seems." Also helps a lot with making the writing sound stronger, surer, and more specific.

Carrie-Anne said...

Another big one is saying someone knows, thinks, or feels something. Usually, you don't need that linking verb and can just cut right to the chase.

Chrys Fey said...

"Ink, black sky" I like that! Thanks for participating, Lisa!

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks!

Chrys Fey said...

"Just" is one that sneaks into my writing a lot, too!

Chrys Fey said...

Yes, I shared a list of word to cut before and "just" and "seems/ed" was on that list.

Chrys Fey said...

You're right, Carrie-Anne.

Unknown said...

As always, great advice, Chrys! When I'm writing I don't think about this stuff but during the editing phase I'm like, "What was I thinking???"

Unknown said...

Great tips! I never liked the word it, especially Stephen King's IT, lol!
But I do try to not start my sentences with "it." Sometimes, it's just too darn hard! I also try not to use the word "just" or "that." I think I've gotten a lot better with eliminating "that" from my work.
Okay, here is my version... "A blanket of black cried above our bodies as we watched the tears saturate soulless graves."

Kelly Hashway said...

Cool challenge. I'm sick so I'm not going to attempt to enter right now, but good luck to those who do.

Kristin Smith said...

Great tips, Chrys! I think I'll give it a go...

A burst of lightning shot through the dark sky as the thunder crackled, announcing the close proximity of the storm.

Patsy said...

My version - Thunder roared over the moonless horizon.

Vanessa Morgan said...

Somehow we are all used to speaking and writing like that. It takes effort to be creative.

Crystal Collier said...

You have to train your brain. I'm totally with you. That's what I call aggressive or immerse prose. I'm constantly making suggestions about it while critiquing.

Unleashing the Dreamworld

Chrys Fey said...

I try to pay attention while I'm writing and sometimes I can catch myself, but during editing is when I always see these mistakes.

Chrys Fey said...

I also try to eliminate "just" and "that." Both of those are on my list of Words to Cut from Your Writing.

OH! Soulless graves...perfect for Halloween! Thanks for participating! :D

Chrys Fey said...

I'm sorry you're not feeling well, Kelly!

Chrys Fey said...

That was really good, Kristin. Great atmosphere!

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks for participating, Patsy! I love that one entry used the word "soulless" and yours used the word "moonless." That reminds me of Crystal Collier's books. ;)

Chrys Fey said...

You're absolutely right, Vanessa!

Chrys Fey said...

I always make suggestions on "There was" and "It was" when I critique, too.

Anonymous said...

I keep a list of weak words by my desk when I'm writing and try to avoid them. How about, "The only light was a sliver of moon behind the gathering storm clouds."

Stephanie Faris said...

I have a client who will not allow me to use is/was/were at ALL. Talk about tough! It does make my writing better, though.

Chrys Fey said...

So do I. :)

I love your take on the prompt, Andrea! Thanks for participating!

Chrys Fey said...

Jeez! I wouldn't even think that's possible.

brenda said...

Rain and thunder played cat and mouse in the shadows of the inky colored night.

Michelle Wallace said...

Great advice, Chrys!

A Jarring thunderclap followed by fierce lightning bolts split the night, and the dry land succumbed to the deluge that followed.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I love the example/better section! I learned a lot by reading that :-)

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Amazing the way a slight change in words, positioning of words can make to a sentence.

Chrys Fey said...

Played cat and mouse. I like that!

Chrys Fey said...

Awesome word use, Michelle!

Chrys Fey said...

Great! :D

Chrys Fey said...

It really is. :)

Loni Townsend said...

Great tips as usual, Chrys! "Was" pops up on my radar, especially if used too often with description. But that's a whole 'nother topic. I like how simple you made it look at turning something dull in to something spectacular!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent tip! I'll have to keep that in mind. I am so guilty of meandering.

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Loni. I still have a problem with "was" but I'm getting better at it. :)

Chrys Fey said...

I'm glad you like my tip, Elizabeth. :)

Liz Blocker said...

Really good point, Chrys! You stated it so simply and clearly, too. I bet I make this mistake in my writing. Gotta go hunt those bad sentences down...

Susan Stuckey said...

Happy #Blitz day.

Chrys Fey said...

I always try to state it simply and clearly so I don't confuse anyone. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Susan! :)