Monday, December 13, 2010

Don't Go THERE

By Bill Furlow

Of the many variables that help determine which books get selected by agents, publishers or readers and which sell only a few copies online, one of the most important is whether a book reads like a professionally crafted work. An agent or publisher can flip the pages reading random paragraphs and quickly spot writing that doesn’t make the grade.

One sign that a work was written by a hopeful amateur rather than a skilled professional is the repeated use of the word “there” to begin sentences. Sentences that begin “There is/there are” usually indicate that the writer either is too lackadaisical to search for a more interesting way to make a statement or doesn’t recognize the weakness in his/her own writing.

We’re not talking about “There he goes,” where “there” refers to an actual place. Rather this is about what I call the “lazy there,” the practice of using the word to begin a very boring sentence. Think high school term paper.

I thought about this when reading an article on how to improve the chances of a blog getting found and read. The paragraph began, “There are many millions of blogs that currently exist on the Web.” What an awful sentence on a topic that’s really important to anyone with a blog. Better would be, “Many millions of blogs exist on the Web today.” Or, “The Web today hosts many millions of blogs.”

Usually “there” sentences can easily be rewritten to make them more compelling. Here are a few examples quickly pulled from books found on

“There was no music on as she preferred the quiet of her thoughts when maneuvering through traffic.”
She preferred the quiet of her thoughts when maneuvering through traffic, so played no music.

“There was a finch at the window and you had never seen one before.”
A finch sat on the windowsill, and you had never seen one before.

“There is a nude beach less than a hundred miles from where I live. I went there once in a while to get an all-over tan…”
Once in awhile I drove to a nude beach less than a hundred miles from home to get an all-over tan.

“There is a movie where the lead character says: ‘Every once in a while you've got to get a little bloody.’"
She remembered a movie character who says: “Every once in awhile, you’ve got to get a little bloody.”

Beginning sentences with “lazy theres” may not be a mortal sin, but it’s at least venal. If you want your book – or any other writing project – to be read by those who matter to you, read back over the work and find ways to eliminate them wherever possible.

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