YOU’RE AFRAID TO BE ANYTHING

04 MARCH, 2012 — MENLO PARK, CA

I write fiction, and occasionally I exchange critiques with other writers. I’ve noted lately a certain stigma and fear with respect to the verb to be, an over-reaction to passivity. Allow me to illustrate.

Suppose you write, “the air was cold.” This isn’t a brilliant or interesting sentence, and that’s exactly the point. It draws a necessary image without any distraction. A reader ingests its depiction much as he or she breaths oxygen: readily, and without thought. [1]

Yet, the average critiquer finds this sort of language disagreeable. “It’s too boring, too passive,” she will say. “Consider instead something like, the frigid air bit into his skin.”

Well, you did consider that. But sometimes you don’t want the reader to care about the air. You want them to care about something else. You simply need them to know, to absorb, and to move on.

Sometimes, the air is just cold.

1 Obviously, this is not always desirable. If you want to draw the reader into an extended metaphor between the ambient air and the affectations of some alien culture, then don’t do this.