Thursday, September 23, 2010

Myth Busters #4: Ing, Ly, and Was KILL!

Myth Buster #4

Never.

I repeat.

Never.

Ever.

Let the words ending in:

LY

ING

or the three letter death word: WAS

enter your writing.

It is a mantra that is sung from the rooftops and proclaimed in the valleys, to never let three of these little "death" words enter your work of fiction, because it will KILL it! Decimate it. Stomp it into the ground. Murder. Death. Destruction.

I think you get the point.....

But why else would I be calling it a myth if not to burst it's pretentious bubble?

Because it is impossible to write fiction without breaking a few rules and without using these three little words or this case, one little word, two little generalizations.

Imagine the world of fiction with no use of the word "was". For example:

It was the same and a terrible sinking in the pit of my stomach settled down deep. Like rocks to the bottom of a rushing river, I was powerless to move, immobile in the face of my situation. It rushed by me like a mighty river, but I was at the bottom. Unrescueable.

Now without the "w" word

It the same and a terrible sinking in the pit of my stomach settled down deep. Like rocks to the bottom of a rushing river, I powerless to move, immobile in the face of my situation. It rushed by me like a mighty river, but I at the bottom. Unrescueable.

Was has been deemed a word that kills fiction and I will agree it is a lazy shortcut and borders on telling, but like you saw in the example above, you cannot go completely without. It is helpful though to go through your document and mark how many times you said the word "was", were they are and which ones can be eliminated, because you don't need all of them.

Instead of writing "I was tired" how about, "I yawned"? The first one told and included a "was". The second one was action and you saw and knew I was tired without telling you. There has to be a balance.

"LY" and "ING" get the same bad rap as "WAS" gets and for the exact same reasons. And like with the use of the word "was" you cannot completely do away with all "ly" and "ing" words. When I was editing my very first story, I went through and eagerly marked all my "ly" and "ing" words. Eager to do away with them with my sharp and at the ready, red pen. But as I went through I quickly learned that no matter how many times you try to rearrange a sentence, it doesn't always work out to your advantage to kill the "ly" and "ing" words.

This led to a great deal of frustration on my part and much hair being yanked at its roots. Until I learned that, like with everything else in the fiction writing world, there has to be a balance.

That is my point of today's post. You can't go from one extreme to the other. Killing "wases" and annihilating all "ly" and "ing". Because when you do, you will degrade your fiction into a pile of alphabet soup. But you can't keep all of them either. Too may "ly" words weaken your writing. Make it stronger with dropping the past tense "wases" and making it active. Make it real for the reader. "Ing" is harder to drop in my humble opinion, but still too much of one thing isn't good for you!

By all means go through your manuscript and highlight those killing words, but before you put them on the chopping block, look at more than just that one sentence. Does it make sense with the rest of the work surrounding it? Is it okay to leave it this time because it is needed, or does it need to go because it weakens your writing? Are you being passive or active? That is the operative word here: active. You have to be active in your fiction to make it jump from the page.

All things in moderation. Moderation being the key. Because in the end your fiction will be stronger for it.

What is your opinion on the "ly", "ing" and "was" curse? Do tell. :-)

16 comments:

Krista Phillips said...

My opinion:

Go through your MS and rewrite as many as you can.

Then go through one more time, and rewrite half of those that you think there is no way you can get rid of. You are then much, much closer. So many times I think "NO WAY can I get rid of it..." but when I force myself to narrow it down, it's amazing the better sentence structures I come up with!

Aimee Laine said...

My opinion is not to use 'was' except in dialog because we people speak it all the time. :) Use 'ing' only when absolutely necessary and 'ly' even less so -- if not at all.

You say above they are 'telly words' which is exactly the problem.
It is in fact possible to write every sentence without those elements and if we are to be the *best* we can be, shouldn't we strive for the top and not let ourselves slide back 'just because its easier'?

My $.02. :)

Casey said...

Yes, Krista that is a great suggestion. Marking them so you see them and knowing what needs to be fixed and activately working towards making it better.

Casey said...

Hi Aimee, I agree with you, putting those words in our fiction can and WILL make it weaker and tend toward lazy writing. WAS can be passive, make it active and LY and ING can tell, but I think at the same time if we completely take them away from our fiction, in certain cases it won't sound correct.

But I do know what you are saying. Just because it can be easier, won't push us out of box and make us better writers. And THAT is what we all need to push forward to. Being a better, stronger writer.

Thanks for leaving your .02! :)

Mary Vee said...

Thanks Casey.
When I consider the limited use, but existence of "ly", "ing", and "was" in the works of renown authors, I'm compelled to agree with your post, Casey. Consider this example...I've seen a cake frosted with no lines. The surface appeared perfect. Quite truthfully, the perfection appeared fake. I bought the cake next to it with a spec of line or slightly tipped deco because it revealed a human crafted the product rather than machine. I enjoy well crafted works that allow rare, but well placed "ly", "ing", or "was" for the same reason.

Casey said...

Agreed Mary. I know what you mean. Too many is lazy writing, just a few adds the perfect amount of spice that is needed to season the soup.

Are we hungry or what??? :)

Britt Mitchell said...

You just can't WRITE without them.

I think they're harped on a bit too much, although I think one should do everything she can to avoid their use.

I just write, let it flow, try to be creative, to show show show. And then, I look for those -ing, -ly, and 'was' words. I want to sound natural, not doctored.

~Britt Mitchell
http://brittmitchell.blogspot.com/

Casey said...

GREAT way of putting it Britt and I agree. The first draft just needs to be written. Get it down on papper (or the screen) and fine tune it later. Like I said, too much of something is too much, but you are correct because you can't have a manuscript that flows without a few.

Sherrinda said...

Everything in moderation! Seriously, everyone needs to let up on the strict rules. Moderation is key.

Henya said...

Priceless info. Thanks.

Casey said...

Sherrinda, that is why I wanted to do my Myth Buster series. I think we all take writing too seriously. Yes it is hard, but if we all stopped trying so hard, let if flow and fix within moderatioan and consideration of what is best for our work, I think we wouldn't be stuck with a project for so long. Just my opinion. :)

Casey said...

I am so glad it was helpful Henya! Thanks for stopping by to read it. :)

Carla Gade said...

Chop. Chop. Chop. That's what I'm busy doing right now. I find that if I remove every naughty word because it's against the rules my writing can sometimes sound bland and stilted. It loses some of my personal inflection, my voice, my character's voice. I always run through and search for ly's, ings, was, were, and all those terrible weasel words but I am happy to say that I occasionally allow them to stay.

Pepper Basham said...

So sorry I'm late on this one, Case. GREAT post, btw.
I like Krista's suggestion and I also like the idea of checking out your verb to see if it's strong or not.
For example:
"He walked briskly through he crowd"
can easily be changed to
"He hurried through the crowd"
or
"she laughed lightly, blending into the music of in the room"
to
"her laughter lilted a melody all its own, blending into the music of the room."

My two cents :-)

Casey said...

Carla, I did the exact same thing. We are told that they are death words to our fiction, but without them we wouldn't be able to have readable fiction. It sounds like an excuse, but it isn't, because I of all people want to make my fiction as strong as I possibly can. Thanks for reading Carla!

Casey said...

Absolutely Pepper. Those are the lazy telling words that I seriously can't stand in fiction. And I think of the three "death" words I mentioned, LY is the one that can probably be done away with almost completely. Because it does border so strongly towards telling. But what is fin (at least I think) is to go through my fiction and put in those strong verbs that really makes the story dance to life.

Glad you liked the post and thanks for sharing your .02. :)