No surprise to anyone that Amazon is glutted with books. Everyone, it seems, has a story they want to tell. I'll be honest - some shouldn't. At least not right away.
I learned a great tip a while back from one of my good author friends which I still keep in mind - cut the was's.
What does that mean?
Simple. Be active, not passive.
Too many times I look at the beginning of a book on Amazon and I'll see not one, but several was's and were's in the first paragraph alone. The first page - and the book - is filled with them.
This is a simple example, but you'll get the idea:
Example: Sarah was tired. Her body was weighted down from lack of sleep.
Revision: Sarah dragged her body out of bed, her eyes at half-mast. Her arms felt heavy, like she'd lifted weights all night instead of sleeping.
See the difference?
Start with action. It's not saying you can't use was once-in-a-while. Yes, you can use it. I have, but the key is - don't overdo it. Keep your main sentences and beginning active, not passive. Use it sparingly. (The same goes for ly adverbs. There are better, and stronger, word choices.)
The book/story is only only better and tighter by making it active, but it's more immediate. It draws the reader into the action.
Interesting thing is that some readers were surprised that I started my book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter like I did, but the focus was the crime, so I had to put Lizzie right in the middle of the action. Why would I wait? The top quotes in each chapter are taken from inquest records and newspapers of the time.
Here's how I started it and part of the first chapter:
Q. You saw his face covered with blood?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did you see his eyeball hanging out?
A. No, sir.
Q. Did you see the gashes where his face was laid open?
A. No, sir.
—Lizzie Borden at inquest, August 9-11, 1892
Lizzie Borden drained the rest of her tea, set down her cup, and listened to the sound of furniture moving upstairs. My, my, for only ten o’clock in the morning my stepmother is certainly energetic. Housecleaning, already?
For a moment, Lizzie forgot her plans to go shopping downtown. THUMP. There it went again. It sounded like her stepmother was rearranging the whole room. She paused at the bottom stair, her concern growing, when she heard another thump and then, the oddest of sounds—a moan. Uh-oh. What was that? Did she hurt herself?
“Mrs. Borden?” Lizzie called. “Are you all right?”
She wondered if her stepmother had taken ill, yet the shuffling, moving, and other unusual noises continued. Lizzie hurried up the stairs and paused outside the partially opened door. The strange moans coming from the room sent a shiver up her back.
When she pushed the door open wider, all she could do was stare. Mrs. Abby Durfee Borden stood in front of the bureau mirror clawing at her reflected image. And what a horrid image it was! The sixty-seven-year-old woman’s hair looked like it had never been combed and stuck out like porcupine quills. Her usually spotless housedress appeared wrinkled and torn. Yet, that wasn’t the worst. Dark red spots—blood, Lizzie’s mind whispered—dotted the floor and streaked the sides, of the older woman’s dress and sleeves.
Lizzie gazed about the room in alarm. The tips of Father’s slippers peeking out from beneath the bed also glistened with the same viscous red liquid. All that blood! What happened here? What happened?
She gasped, which got the attention of Mrs. Borden, who jerked her head and growled. Lizzie choked back a cry of alarm. Abby’s square, plain face now appeared twisted and ashen gray. Her eyes, once bright with interest, stared from under a milky covering as if she had cataracts. She resembled a female version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Another growl and a moan, and the older woman lunged, arms rigid, her stubby hands held out like claws.
“Mrs. Borden, Abby!” Lizzie yelled and stumbled backward as fast as she could. “Abby, do you hear me?”
Her stepmother shuffled forward, her steps slow but steady. She showed no emotion or sense of recognition. The only utterances she made were those strange low moans.
Lizzie moved back even further, trying to keep out of reach of Mrs. Borden’s grasping fingers. Then her foot hit something. Lizzie quickly glanced down at the silver hairbrush that had fallen to the floor. Too late, she realized her error.
“No!” Lizzie shivered at the feel of her stepmother’s clammy, cold hand around her wrist. “Abby, what happened? What’s wrong with you?”