It was and there were. Yup I’m going there. Everyone does it. I am aware that I have. Starting a sentence with “It was” or “There were” is passive and… boring. Chances are if I’ve stuck them in I’ve crippled the creativity of what could have been said. These should be avoided for obvious reasons they can leave the reader wondering what exactly I meant by ‘it’ or ‘there’.
That can be a problem because if the reader gets bored then they aren’t paying attention. These two sentence starters are often found clinging to cliché phrases that should never be used such as “it was a dark and stormy night.” Blech, it’s been done to death.
So what would make “It was a dark and stormy night.” Better? A better immersive description. Let’s see…
Darkness gave way to the flash that lit up the rivulets of rain on the window.
The only thing louder than the pounding rain on the roof is the barrage of startling Anne.
With her nose pressed against the cool glass; Anne waited for the flash to light up the curtain of rain.
Now the sentences are no longer passive or vague. It takes the narrative into a better voicing that the reader will enjoy.
So what about “There were” ? There were plenty of apples. An abundance of vagueness. Assuming there is no option before or after to go into detail I’ll try to fix this one.
Anne’s eyes danced over the lush reds, greens and in between’s of the shiny apples on display.
Anne selected one of each of the ten types of apples from the market stall.
With ten different kinds, Anne selected the granny Smiths to use in her apple pie.
This is not an exercise for reducing word count, however sometimes making the words count by adding more is more important than worrying about quantity. Taking away the vague allowed me to put a bit more information into the sentence.
Sometimes these are more innocent and less cliché. They just appear in writing because they’re easy to use.
For example: It was sunny today.
What was sunny? We all know sun appears outside but this can be better. Way better.
Anne smiled at her cat rolling in the puddle of sunlight on the floor.
Shielding her eyes as she opened the door; Anne reached for the sunglasses perched on her head.
The clouds parted and Anne lifted her face to the warmth and light that promised a beautiful day ahead.
Writing a sentence in the passive with a vague beginning is definitely something I try to look out for. A quick “search and find” or revision can help track them down in my writing. When I see them I know I’m being lazy and do what I can to make the sentence more valuable.
Here’s a challenge for my lovely followers. Give one, two or all of these a try. Re-write them and see what you come up with and put them in the comments below to share.
It was a dark and stormy night.
There were plenty of apples.
It was a sunny day.
My advice about passive vague sentence starts.
Watch out for them, find them and put them to rest by writing something more interesting.