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Writing in E-Prime

Published November 30, 2009 in Help For Writers - 0 Comments

One problem that many writers run into is that they end up telling the story, rather then showing the story. Even now, after not writing in a long time, I noticed I fell back into this trap. I seem to be telling the story, rather then showing the story in many instances.

One method I found and used back in my more prominent writing days is something called E-Prime. Basically it works on the concept that when a person tells a story they use the following “to be” verbs: be, is, am, are, was, were, been, being; plus contractions — ‘m, ‘s, ‘re; plus various archaic and dialectual forms — eg., war, wert, beest, amn’t, ain’t.

So the better way to write a story and show the reader is to let them see the action, rather then tell the action.

Lets look at an example:

Using “to be” verbs: I was being chased by a green monster, were the river runs dry.

Without “to be” verbs: My feet thudded heavily. I ran from the green monster, past the dry end of the river.

As you can see, when I don’t use the “to be” verbs, I am forced to write the sentence more so that the reader sees the action. When I use the “to be” verbs, it is easy to see that I’m more or less telling a story.

Try this in your writing. Try to avoid using the “to be” verbs, and see how it helps out your writing.

I need to work on this as well. Currently as I write my story Soldier Qualification, I can see I’m still using these verbs heavily. I don’t avoid the words as I write articles, and posts, such as this I’m writing now. But I will try harder to avoid using the “to be” verbs when I write stories. They may still slip in however.

Usually what I’ll do, is I’ll right my story without really thinking about anything. I’ll just get the words on paper. When I go back and do my final edit. That is when I’ll look for the use of “to be” verbs, and I’ll change the sentences around to be more descriptive and more action oriented rather then story told.

What you can do as well is print out the following label and post it somewhere by your computer where you can see it. It’ll help you remember not to use “to be” verbs.

Writing In E-Prime

I will never use “to be” verbs. The following words are “to be” words:

be, is, am, are, was, were, been, being; plus contractions — ‘m, ‘s, ‘re; plus various archaic and dialectual forms — e.g., war, wert, beest, amn’t, ain’t.

The only time I will use these are in dialog.

I hope this method helps out others with their writing. I know it has helped me out in the past.

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