Most of the time, as I'm going through my book, I find this word describing something, which is the antithesis to the "Show, don't tell" mantra. It definitely tells, most of the time.
When I find it, usually there are three things that are happening:
- I'm being lazy, and can beef up the action verb more. "The sun was setting", for example, versus "the setting sun exploded color...". The verb went from "was" to "exploded" which is much more engaging.
- I'm using the passive voice. Never good. "The building was blown up by the militants" instead of "the militants destroyed the building". Again, a more exciting action verb.
- I'm trying to use a metaphor, but again, being lazy: "she looked at me like I was crazy" as opposed to "she stared at me like my head had just sprung open and butterflies flew out".
HOWEVER, there are times when I keep the WAS in.
- In dialogue. Yes, it's not as exciting, but that's how people speak. Take any of the three items above and put quotes around it, and you've just made your teen sound like a Harvard grad.
- When it's require for past-perfect tense. Like when a character is rehashing an event prior to the one they're in, or when they're remembering something. "I remember he was running down the corridor" is perfectly ok because it's part of the past perfect tense.
So I'm searching through my manuscript now and every time I see a "was" I look for these different items. This is when the rubber meets the road, where your writing skills are really tested. This is where an author could spend an hour on a single sentence. This is what separates the pros from the unpublished. So get searching, and