BrianWFoster’s Eighth Law of Writing

Eighth Law – Be Active

Active writing is engaging writing.  Slogging through page after page of exposition and infodumps doesn’t draw anyone in.

Use Active Verbs:

Get rid of “was.”

Longtime readers will know that I have many pet peeves.  High among them is the use of “was,” especially when paired with the “-ing” form of a verb.

Joe was running down the street.

Which is better:

Joe existed in a state of running down the street.


Joe ran down the street.

Anywhere you see a form of the verb “to be,” you need to examine it.  If you’re using it to create a particular effect of mood or pacing, that’s fantastic!  If you leave it in because taking it out would cause convoluted sentences, I can live with that.  If you have it in your text because you’re too lazy to find a better way, shame on you!

Choose the best verb

Bob looked at Joe running.

Your verb for the sentence above is “looked,” which is not strong.  In fact, you don’t need that first part at all.  Your reader understands that they’re seeing through the eyes of your POV character, Bob.  No need to restate it here.

Joe ran down the street as a scream pierced the night.

Your verb above is “ran.”  Which is stronger and more active: ran or pierced?  Change it to:

As Joe ran down the street, a scream pierced the night.

Be Active Even in Your Descriptions:

This is a technique the Tolkien used.  He had trees marching to the side of the road.  Peaks can lunge toward the sky.  Fields can envelop and surround.

Keep the Story Moving:

Be active in your storytelling as well.  Beware the word “had.”  Keep your characters on the move with stuff happening.


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