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August 21, 2013

            As is a common word in the English language. We use it often in our speech and often in our writing. The problem is using it too much and in the wrong place. As is another one of those words that can make a sentence or phrase passive.

            To put it bluntly, you shouldn’t start a sentence with as. Why? Because it weakens the sentence. It’s a passive way of saying something when there are many active ways it can be said that move your story along much better.

I used to use as a lot because it was easy. We tend to take the easy way, the path of least resistance. We pick a lot of these habits up from our speech. The problem is that the way we talk doesn’t always translate well to the page, especially in narrative.

As she reached the upper landing, Tammy caught her breath.

That is subtly passive.

Tammy reached the upper landing, caught her breath and moved on.

That is active. It shows more positive movement.

As the clock struck one, the crowd began chanting.

This one has a double-whammy with two passive words. As and began.

The clock struck one. Chanting erupted from the crowd.

This is a case where the began could’ve been used, but I found a way around it. As long as it’s not overused, it can work. Notice how I also started the previous sentence with an as? Once in a while, they can be used for effect. That is a perfect example of when that word is proper to use.

Sentences don’t have to start with an as for them to be passive. They can be anywhere within the sentence to still be passive, just like was, ing and ly words etc.

It was time to clock out, as the shift was over.

This could be changed to:

With the shift over, everyone clocked out.

That not only eliminates the as but the two was’s as well: a triple whammy!

I’ve written a lot about passivity because it is a great killer in a story. Though it runs rampant through most best-sellers (because once you’re established, all rules of good writing seen to go out the window), it would be nice if someone championed good writing. One day, maybe this stuff will filter up the chain. Since we struggling-to-get-published writers are held to such severe standards, why not make it for everyone?

I, for one, think they’re great rules. When I read a book that’s written well, it’s such a greater pleasure than slugging through a best-selling piece of crap, poorly written with a great story I can barely follow. Or, I read a story that could be so much better if the author had taken the time to do it right.

One day…

Happy writing.

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