Was Had Been

I’d like to discuss the word “Was” today, and why it does not belong in your writing. “had” or “had been” are also not to be used in excess for the same reasons. Before I joined my writers group I over used these words, a classic newbie mistake. My fellow writers informed me by underlining every “was” or “had” on a page in red ink. When there is more red on the page than your originally written work, you know you’re in trouble. It surprised me when I began writing, but following this rule made me think harder about my word choice, and ultimately my writing style improved. trying to eliminate these words actually made me expand my vocabulary to restructure my sentences in a way that avoided it.

Exclude this over-used word because it’s boring and repetitive. There is nothing active or exciting about it. I know you will have to use it once in a while, it is, after all part of the English language. But it is difficult as a reader to stay excited and in the moment when every phrase is passive.

Example 1:

She was leaning provocatively into the car window over where he was sitting. He was parked next to the new “no parking” sign. That sign had been placed there by the local PTA last November. Parking had become a problem for local business owners when the new school was done for the day. She was one of the Mom’s that had pushed the issue about the no parking. She wasn’t complaining about someone parking there now.

Example 2:

She leaned provocatively into the car window over the man’s lap. His parked car sat next to the no parking sign in front of the school. She raised hell alongside the other PTA moms last November when local businesses complained about the parking issue. She even posed for pictures when the sign went up. She conveniently ignored the sign now.


The story is the same in both examples, but the one without the “was” and “had been” is more active, and makes the story more interesting.

Try going over a piece that you have written and highlight all the “was” “had” and “had been” uses. Now re-write the piece without them. I promise you the piece will be better.


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