Ethan Fast

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 thought1.

The average critiquer finds this sort of language disagreeable. “It’s too boring, too passive,” they 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. Of course this is not always desirable.