Writers Must Avoid Copulation


Noooo… not that kind of copulation! I read a great article recently about the Copula: “the connecting link between subject and predicate of a proposition.” It is the bane of all green writers out there and especially notorious among indie/self-published authors. A copula is usually when you use a form of “to be” in your writing: was, is, will be, was, were, had been, became, was, was being, was. I just hate “was” so badly.

If there is any single piece of writing advice I could ever give it is this: reduce passive verbs to no more than one per three pages. It’s hard, especially if you write nonfiction. A passive verb is the functional equivalent to the one second rest between weightlifting reps. But don’t fall into it–tighten those sentences up.

This really is the worst thing an author could do and I’ve spent years trying to reduce my own tendencies towards it. I edited a piece for a person on absolutewrite‘s forum last year with a LBL (line by line crtique) and had no choice but tell them they needed to scrap the whole thing and go write five new works between 500-2500 words with the intent of honing their skill at editing, style, and removing “was” and passive verbs. The forums erupted with hate for me, like I was some grammatical Prince Joffrey (never let your close friends be your final editors unless you want to be lied to). I highlighted the passive verbs in the first four sentences and did the math: 27 verbs (one sentence was a really long) and 21 of them were passive!

The first response by another critiquer after I explained why this is a problem and how to fix it? “That’s not what passive voice means!” I copied/pasted/posted the definition and muttered “millennials” under my breath. Needless to say, I don’t spend much time on AW anymore.

Anyway, here’s why we need to fix this: if indie authors are going to get any respect, we’ve got to drum out poor writing–that means begging with, pleading with, or murdering the worst offenders who are dragging down the quality quotient in the self-publishing world. I just might be in favor of eugenics when it comes to this topic. That’s how important it is.

Here’s a great article about “copula spiders” that helps people see them for the scourge and terror that they are: http://woodwardpress.com/2016/04/04/the-case-of-the-copula-overdose/


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