Thursday, September 20, 2007

TO BE OR NOT TO BE By Robert W. Walker

To BE or not to BE....

Come on, Shakespeare was asking the age old question, should I live or should I die....but he was also intending to send a message about simple grammatical matters -- should I use the Verb to Be or should I use an ACTIVE Verb? Should I live (use active verbs) or should I die (use inactive verbs -- the verb to BE).

I don't know anything if I don't know that DRAMATIC writing is built on visual imagery, and there is no Visual Component in the mind when we use the verbs WAS or WERE or most any form of the BE verb, and helping verbs and linking verbs.

I ask you, do you SEE and BELIEVE it, do you smell it -- this BE word? He BE a tall man. He was a tall man. They were tall men--those rough riders who rode into town. Their clothes were clinging to them, and they were painted on it seemed.

All the action is KILLED by the overuse of the Was\Were and to be verbs. Do you so easily BELIEVE and accept that these men were tall? How does the verb WAS prove tallness? How tall is tall anyway?

Do you smell these dirty, dusty riders when they come into town if the author writes: They were riding into town, dust trailing them. I don't feel it or smell it or see it, not so long as they were riding....

Take a lesson from 3:10 to Yuma -- both the Glenn Ford/Van Heflin original oldie and the new Crow\Bale remake -- as fine a remake as ever was made, by the way. At any rate, in this film ACTION and DRAMA are the driving force of a great, great story of a dirt farmer who finds himself confronting the most evil killer in the territory and must get him on the 3:10 to Yuma for money and for pride.

Here is how we paper and black ink mark writers who do not have the Silver Screen to do the sound effects and the odors and the visual componets must write this scene:

Tall, thin, angualr men, they rode into town on dusky, perspiring horses, dirt and sand chasing them, painting their clothes. Clothes that clung to them as if for life.

Now there's no pesky "helping" verbs here; no verbs To Be either. All the verbs are Working Dogs -- like RODE, CHASING, PAINTING, and in the second sentence CLUNG. Each of thse ACTIVE, ACTION verbs has a visual componet that the mind's eye can see, smell, feel, hear even. The sound of the horses was like thunder is not as good as The horses thundered through the town.

That's my take on Active vs. Passive verbs, and you can ride that all the way to the rodeo. If you look closely at bestselling authors and authors people keep coming back to read, you will find a good 90-80 percent of their sentences combine the subject and action verb time after time.

Good Luck with your writing, wranglers!

Rob Walker
City of the Absent is up for pre-order (Dec. release)

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