There, There Now – What’s Wrong With There?

Be A NovelistTricky Words

A number of tricky words lie in wait to trip up even the most diligent novelist.  That list may include clichés, weak verbs of the to be family, overuse of certain conjunctions (and for example), and the list could go on and on.

For this blog I will focus on the tricky word there. There is wily and sneaky and will most assuredly reach out and bite an unsuspecting writer, regardless of his or her grammar proficiency.

As I began writing the very first sentence in this blog, what words might you guess popped into my head? If you answered, “There are a number of tricky words…” you are 100% correct.  Give yourself a gold star.

Why did that particular phrase pop into my mind?  Because, quite obviously, that’s how we talk.  But the spoken word and the written word are vastly different.  Or should be.  I’m not known for editing my words in casual conversation. (Although I have been guilty of editing others. Oh, for the need of restraint!)  This is why the professional novelist is not content with the first words (phrase) that pops into one’s mind.

Keeping Bad Company

Let’s take a closer look at there.  In and of itself, the word there is not such a bad fellow.  However, he keeps bad company.  There likes to hang out with weak verbs such is, was, are, have been, had been.  Being verbs are lifeless, colorless, and void of strong action.

Be A NovelistThere will be an auction at the old farm house later today.

Take a good look at this sentence.  If there is edited out, his buddies will be must go with him.  How might the entire sentence be edited?  Try this:

The auction at the old house is scheduled for later today.

Ah, now weak verbs are gone and a stronger one – scheduled – replaced it.  Good work!

Sometimes it requires a mere change of word sequence.

There is something strange happening here.

Something strange is happening here.

That was pretty simple, but it’s not always that easy.  Some instances require more skill.

Time to Re-Word

There was a car wreck. 

Eliminating there won’t work. Change in word sequence will not help either.  It’s time to re-work and re-word completely.

Suddenly there was the sound of metal grinding against metal and glass shattering.

A little better, but not much.  Notice we are still encumbered with “there was.”  Suddenly isn’t that bad, but it can become a clutter word as well.

Let’s try again. It’s time to stop and think exactly what it is we are attempting to say.  The Be A Novelistprofessional novelist wants to do more than express a thought.  The professional novelist wants to impress.  Or said another way, the professional novelist wants to leave an impression on the reader.  How about this one?

Two cars careened into one another as metal scraped against metal and shattered glass sprayed across the asphalt.

Now we have action-packed verbs: careened, scraped, shattered and sprayed and vivid word pictures.  (With a little alliteration thrown in for good measure.)

Word Power

You may be thinking that we rid ourselves of a few weak verbs and wrote a long sentence instead.  True. The point here is not word count; but word power.

There is a reason why I wanted to write this blog. There were several reasons actually.  There is a lesson contained within this blog for each novelist (and all writers) to grasp.  There is a pressing need to be vigilant when writing.

I hope you’re getting the point!  Smile.

Seriously, it’s the lazy novelist who does not take the time and effort to tend to editing details.  It’s the lazy novelist who is not willing to go on a search-and-destroy mission when it comes to weak words such as there.

I think you’re getting it. There now, that’s wasn’t so difficult, was it?

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I trust the teaching and instruction given in this blog post was helpful in your goal to be a Be A NovelistnovelistFor more in-depth writer’s workshops, check out the wide variety offered at the Be A Novelist Website.

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10 thoughts on “There, There Now – What’s Wrong With There?

  1. potofcallaloo

    Whoa! I didn’t even realise how tricky the word ‘there’ is. Now that you’ve pointed it out, it really does seem the lazy way out to just use ‘there’ repeatedly when one can find so many other action packed verbs, as you’ve put it Norma Jean. Thanks for this. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Norma Jean Lutz

      Hi Alisha! It’s so true, isn’t it? How those sneaky little guys can come in and catch us unaware? The key is just that: to become aware. Translated, that simply means learning the craft of writing! Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  2. lofuji

    1. “There will be an auction at the old farm house later today.”
    2. “The auction at the old house is scheduled for later today.”

    I wonder if you realize that you have radically changed the meaning in 2. In 1, the reader learns for the first time of the impending auction. 2 assumes that the reader already knows about the impending auction, and the sentence merely confirms the timing. In general, I agree that sentences beginning “There is/are…” can be very weak, but personally I see nothing wrong with the first sentence. I see it as an example of how “there” ought to be used to begin a sentence.

    Reply
  3. lofuji

    1. “There will be an auction at the old farm house later today.”
    2. “The auction at the old house is scheduled for later today.”

    I wonder if you’re aware that these two sentences differ sharply in meaning. In 1, the reader learns for the first time of the impending auction. The implied assumption in 2 is that the reader already knows about the auction, and the sentence merely confirms the timing. In general, I agree with you that sentences beginning “There is/are…” can be very weak, but I would assert that there is nothing wrong with the first sentence.

    Reply
    1. Norma Jean Lutz

      Love this input!

      And you are right. I agree. The point is just a little deeper. Once you spend hours and hours and HOURS (as I have) reading weak writing filled with weak modifiers as I have described, one must begin from that position to teach how to break out of the mundane and add a little life to the writing. If the example was not the best in the world, I stand corrected. :^)

      Thanks again for your input. It’s always appreciated.

      Reply
      1. Lady M. (@Ladym2500W)

        Let’s not be guilty of “trying too hard,” either. Replacing an Active voice sentence with a Passive voice sentence is exactly that. It’s weakening to boot. Always choose words that won’t stop the reader’s eyes from moving as quickly and easily along as possible. One should not be aware of the Labor of reading. For that, short, simple, every-day words work best. Besides, a novelist is focused on bigger stuff– plot, character, color, avoiding built-in obsolescence, etc.The 5 edits (yes, 4 more times through) will catch such small stuff as “there” and “and” used too frequently or creating run-on sentences. It’s not a writer’s job to wordsmith from the very beginning. He’d better make sure it makes sense and entertains, else nothing done with those tiny words will matter.

        Reply
        1. Norma Jean Lutz

          No matter what art form, from acting, to painting, to ballet and all else included, you will always have the overall basics that must be achieved. Additionally, the smaller finer details come into play.

          Thanks so much Lady M. Your point is well taken.

          Reply
  4. Lady M. (@Ladym2500W)

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, serves a writer better than an incredibly large vocabulary. You get that by learning to read well at a very young age and then doing it through out your lifetime. Carry a paperback book (or eReader) everywhere you go, so that not a moment is wasted while you wait. Can you fathom how many thousands of hours one wastes in lobbies, at ferry stops, open bridges, or simply trying to fall asleep? Make those hours build a vocabulary which is truly unstoppable!

    Reply

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