Yesterday I posted the following to all of my various social media: “Awww man… A book I’ve been looking forward to starts with one of my biggest pet peeves in writing.” People have been asking me about it ever since, so rather than post explanations to a bunch of different places, I decided to put it up here so I could continue to refer people back to it as needed.
My biggest pet peeve in writing is sentences that begin with “There was…” (were, are, is, etc…)
Yes, I’ve used it sometimes in my writing. Every time I look back over my previous work and see it, I cringe. Those sentences are the only time when when I’m tempted to go back and edit my work after publication. For more on that check my post, “An Unseen Danger of the Indie Book Revolution.”
So… Why do I have such a problem with sentences that begin with “There was…” (were, are, is, etc…)???
I think it’s lazy writing. When a writer begins a sentence with “There was…” he or she is only saying that whatever follows exists. That’s all. The only purpose of such a sentence is to declare the existences of something. For example:
“There was a guard by a door,” says “A guard existed by a door.” Yawn. All we get is a guard and a door. Nothing else. No color. Nothing to make the story pop. Nothing that gives us insight to the character observing this particular guard standing (if the guard is indeed standing) by this particular door. I offer instead: “A guard leaned on his spear a few paces before a door, head bobbing up an down as he fought off fatigue.” Or perhaps, “The guard stood straight at attention not even a full pace away from the door he protected, eyes scanning back and forth.” I chose to focus on the guard in these sentences rather than the door, because I think characters offer greater opportunities for dynamic writing that scenery does. In these two sentences, we get two different images. Heck, it could be the same guard, separated by hours standing at that door. The point is: both sentences are more interesting and give the reader more information about what’s going on than “There was a guard at a door.”
I know this is a fairly simple example. I intentionally kept it simple to make my point. However, it doesn’t matter how much extra stuff a writer tack onto a “There was…” sentence, at it’s heart, the sentences still just boils down to declaring something’s existence. No matter how beautifully a writer crafts the rest of the sentence, he or she can make it even better by dropping the “There was…” portion of the sentence in favor of something stronger and more vibrant.
So… Now you know my biggest pet peeve in writing. What’s yours?
(Oh, and I opened some of my published works in WORD and did a search for “there was”… Shudder. Well, I can only work to do better in the future.)