OK, folks, you didn’t take me seriously about Ken Rand’s The 10% Solution. I have my ways of knowing. Listen, though: this is an editing tool not to miss. It’s only 60 pages. Talk about brevity. And brevity is one of Rand’s cardinal principles (along with clarity and accuracy.)

Using one of Rand’s exercises, I quickly went through part of my novel manuscript with the Search function seeking one of my bad habits, the overuse of the word “was.” I’m reluctant to show my clunky writing, but here are a few examples of how searching for “was” allowed me to snip away the passive voice and craft a better sentence. Often less wordy, too.

These examples are from book four of The Entire and The Rose, Prince of Storms, due in a little while to my publisher. First sentence is the original, second gets rid of “was.”

Avva ceb didn’t know what it was to ride across the steps with an Inyx in your mind.
Avva ceb had never ridden across the steps with an Inyx in her mind.

It was heartening to think someone had come by to see her
Her spirits lifted to think someone had come by to see her.

When Anzi found her, the old woman was surrounded by juveniles.
When Anzi found her, juveniles surrounded the old woman.

Each branch was talking
Each branch spoke.

Soon there was a distant drum of hooves.
Soon she heard a distant drum of hooves.

His sleeveless long tunic was belted tightly around his emaciated form.
A belt cinched his sleeveless tunic around his emaciated form.

Entering the residential hall, she noted that Emar Vod was not at his usual sentry duty.
Entering the residential hall, she noted Emar Vod’s absence from sentry duty.

At the prefect’s feet was an abandoned sword.
At the prefect’s feet lay an abandoned sword.

Manifest was full of voices.
Voices filled Manifest.

Sometimes “was” is a good choice. Sometimes passive voice is really just fine. As here, IMHO:
Avva ceb was dried-up, without guts or passion.

So, as with most writing advice, the choices must still be yours. you must still make the choices.

7 Responses

  1. Kay says:

    Passive voice

    Oh, right. Not passive voice in this instance. And, as to passive voice when it Does show up, I believe I said that I believe sometimes passive voice is really just fine. I agree that torturous obedience to “rules” is uncalled for. Worth restating: the writer makes the final choice.

  2. Scene-shifting

    Interesting èpost, thank you for showing examples, it’s always good to be able to see specifics instead of general ideas. 🙂

    In one of the sentences you post, though from the original to the edited one my ‘mental scene’ changes:

    >When Anzi found her, the old woman was surrounded by juveniles.

    Here I see the old woman, first, and then the juveniles that surround her, I have the sense that Anzi was focused in the search and the old woman sort of ‘jumped out’ to his/her eyes.

    >When Anzi found her, juveniles surrounded the old woman.

    Here my visual focus is on the surrounding juveniles,it sounds to me like there are enough of them and tall enough to almost hide the old woman from view, maybe Anzi found her by hearing rather than by sight.

    Very likely that’s just me, but I thought it may be worth mentioning…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Re: Scene-shifting

    I agree, the first way set the scene a bit better. This is a possible example of where the passive voice is preferable, adding to the thread of not succumbing to dread of the passive voice. And on that subject, a helpful principle may be, “Avoid using the passive voice by default; use it deliberately for its benefits.”

    And by the way, just to be clear, the Rand book recommends these Search exercises to allow an author one more look at possible problems, not to mindlessly cull certain words or uses.

    Sometimes one will needlessly react. But I find the exercises provide an interesting insight into my style choices. Of course, the exercises are almost impossible to apply to a novel because of the manuscript length. That’s why I tried a section of my novel–not so much to improve the writing, although it did–but to become more aware of lazy habits.

  4. Kay says:


    Um, that was me in the previous post.

  5. Re: scene-shifting

    🙂 often I forget to login too.
    By the way, sorry for the typos. Often my brain is faster than my fingers, but that is doubly embarassing when exchanging ideas with a writer.

  6. daviddurham says:

    Oops. I forgot to do this with my most recent novel. Too late now, though. I’ll get them next time…

  7. Kay says:

    Forgot the 10% solution

    Yeah, I don’t usually have time for it with novels, either. On novels, at the end, I take a section and apply one of the “solutions” just for the training… in the meantime, ms. gets a teensy bit better.

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