Lessons Learned...The Rejection Way - #6

Monday, July 5, 2010
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy,
Was he?

This poem reminded of one of my rejection letters, probably because I repeat the silly saying a million times a day to my baby (Hey, they say it's good for an infant's brain development to hear lots of rhyming verses. I have to say it's not so good for Mom's sanity however. But anyway...)

One editor told me I needed to develop my showing-and-not-telling abilities a little better. She went on to explain that she'd highlighted text in my story where I was telling instead of showing. I was stunned she'd went to so much work for my little ol' story and I was really excited about revising her highlighted spots.

Except...when I opened the document, only the words WAS, WERE, HAVE, and HAD were highlighted.

Interesting teaching technique, huh? I thought so. It certainly opened my eyes to how much I actually do tell instead of show.

Though ninety percent of WAS/WERE in a story could most certainly be crumpled and thrown in a trash can, I think there are still a few instances where WAS is the best word choice.

Like in the first few lines of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone :

"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

Other times, it can be fairly easy to fix a was/were and have/had problem like in the sentences:

He was a dog once. Now he was human.

Which can easily turn to...

Once a dog, Rover now roamed with the human crowd.

And...that's all I have to say about that. Be on a lookout for those sneaky telling words.


  1. Just wait until the Barney years and then you'll really go crazy... :O)

  2. "I love youuuu, you love meeeee, we're a happy famileeee..."

    I still like Barney, even though my last one was more influenced by Spongebob, due to his anti-Barney older siblings. And I also miss Shining Time Station...but I digress.
    (Thanks Diane!)

    What was I going to say? Oh yeah...in my Arbor U, I have not only a bad head-hopping habit, there's also the tell vs show problem. I got better as the series went on...I hope!

  3. Oh goodness. I am such a passive writer. I am trying to learn and am now able to see alot of my passitivity. Well, at least I hope I am catching most of it. lol

  4. Eeke! Well, sounds like a helpful editor. All I'm getting are form rejects, which is *sniffle* not great.
    Love your attitude here, though I'm sorry for the rejection.

  5. I think it would be silly to try to kill all passive verbs. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, after all. But one thing I did when revising was to change the color of the text of all passive verbs, then try to replace with active verbs. (I do this also with adverbs: "he said angrily" becomes "he shouted" etc.)

  6. Thanks alot, Molly and Diane. Now I'm going to have the Barney song stuck in my head all day!! That's as bad as Fuzzy. :)

    Hi Sherrinda! Spotting a passive line is more than half the battle, so I bet you're doing great on revisions.

    Hey Jessica! When I read about people like J. K. Rowlings getting rejections, I just drop my jaw and think, why would anyone on earth reject THEM? But then you read agent and publisher blogs and learn only about 1% or even less of submissions get accepted, it's a miracle I ever sold one story must less 4!

    Hey, Jennifer. Thanks for stopping by.

    And Hi Beth. I love your advice. Thank you. That's ANOTHER thing I need to keep my eye on.

  7. Hey Linda! I have some was words in my story. They are needed. But I always try to change them and then that helps me see that I need or don't need that ugly-ugly passive verb.

    BTW, was is my favorite word. I really didn't know about my love for was until I started writing. My crit partner, Beth above, found over 400 was words in one of my drafts of SEVENTY TWO HOURS. Now if that ain't love, I don't know what is. ;)

    I have loved looking at the pics of our girl, Lydia. She is growing fast. Picked out her college yet? I have some ideas, email me. *wink*