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.
While researching something completely unrelated, I came across a term that I didn’t know. Dangling modifiers or misplaced modifiers. Of course once I did some further research I figured it out quickly and I discovered I dangle modifiers. Huh.
So what is it? Modifiers are words or phrase that modify something else. Often causing a confusing statement that can also be funny. Vague I know, the examples make it clearer what I mean.
Jim almost walked down every street looking for the dog.
Almost is the modifier in that sentence, but it implies that Jim didn’t go all they way down each street.
Jim walked down almost every street looking for the dog.
Now the sentence reads correctly and the modifier is placed correctly. Now Jim is walking down the streets, just not all of them.
Let me try another:
Rolling down the street, Amber was terrified by the runaway car.
Since Amber comes right after “rolling down the street” Amber is the modifier and is the one rolling. Which is a weird thing to do.
Honestly in this case the “rolling down the street” is superfluous. But if one really felt that it needed to be said, perhaps this would be better.
Rolling down the street, the runaway car terrified Amber.
Okay so now the car is rolling, not Amber. Although the other might make for a more interesting story.
Covered in dust, Scott questioned the plates cleanliness.
Because Scott followed the dust, Scott is dusty not the plate.
Covered in dust, the plate caused Scott to question the cleanliness.
What I would write in this case if I see the comma, I know it could be way better anyway. Besides I like to bring the sentence out of the characters head (I write in third) and make it part of the experience.
Scott ran his finger over the dusty plate and grimaced at the smudge on his finger.
I’m sure I do this all the time. Maybe someday I’ll write without tonnes of errors, but until then I’ll ask others to proof. These sorts of mistakes are caught by proof readers or reading the book out loud to myself. For me I try to take out the comma if it’s being used. I’s usually a clear sign that I’ve dangled the wrong damned thing.
My advice about Dangling modifiers.
De-dangle them, re write the sentence. Otherwise what the reader reads, might not actually be what’s happening.
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