Day 6 with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Friday, January 16, 2015

Day 6, just one more day to go. Hang in there everyone!

Sudipta has written lots of fun picture books. Chicks Run Wild is a big favorite of ours, perhaps because of our own silly chickens. Take it away, Sudipta!


To Be? No! Not TO BE!

As writers, revision is a part of our lives. A totally unwanted yet unavoidable part of our lives. Like ear wax or belly button lint.

Or maybe…maybe ear wax and belly button lint aren’t like revision. Maybe…revision is more like the removal process of ear wax or belly button lint.

(At this point, someone should award me a trophy for the use the phrase “belly button lint” repeatedly in a writing-related blog post. Thank you. Thank you very much.)

Maybe it is the words that we need to trim off that are like ear wax or belly button lint, and revision just leaves our manuscripts cleaner, fresher, and more sparkly. And less waxy.

Maybe revision shouldn’t be so unwanted.

There are many ways to revise manuscripts to get them submission-ready. It would be impossible to point out all the strategies in a single blog post (in fact, I’ll be teaching a whole class on picture book revision this year at Kidlit Writing School! www.kidlitwritingschool.com). So, instead, I wanted to share one important, universal, deceptively simple yet incredibly powerful way to revise your work to make the writing stronger:

NO MORE TO BE 

No, that’s not some Yoda-speak wisdom that you need to mull and decipher. Very simply, I want you to go through your manuscript and try to remove every form of the verb “to be.” So that means go look for the following words:


be, am, are, is, was, were, been 

When you find these words, think of them as ear wax or belly button lint and get rid of them. Because almost every time you use one of these forms of “to be,” you are telling, not showing.

When you write, “She was mad,” you’ve told me what your character is feeling. When you revise it to, “Her jaw clenched and lasers practically shot out of her eyes,” you show me her feelings without having to tell me.

“We were terrified” is a tell. “We trembled like leaves” or “Our hearts pounded so loud it sounded like a bass line” is a show.

“She’s been sad all day” is a tell. “She cried until there were no tears left” is a show.

Obviously, you will never get rid of every instance of “to be” in a manuscript (just like you will never get rid of every last bit of ear wax or belly button lint!). There are many, many times when be, am, are, is, was, were, and been are essential. But as a place to start in the revision and tightening process, looking for “to be” can help you quickly identify parts of your manuscript that could use a second look and a bit of a makeover.

Show, don’t tell is the mantra of our industry. Even experienced writers have moments when they struggle with this (I know I still do on a daily basis). But I’ll bet you’ll be amazed at how this simple trick – getting rid of “to be” – will take your writing from telling to showing.

Happy Revising! 


Thank you Sudipta! One lucky reviser will win a critique from Sudipta! Watch for the Rafflecopters so you can to win on the 18th!









Sudipta is an award-winning author of over 40 books and the co-founder of both Kidlit Writing School (www.kidlitwritingschool.com) and Kidlit Summer School (www.nerdychickswrite.com). Her books include DUCK DUCK MOOSE, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, ORANGUTANGLED, and over thirty more titles that have been acclaimed by the Junior Library Guild, the California Reader’s Collection, the Bank Street Books Reading Committe, the Amelia Bloomer list, and many more. Find out more about her by visiting SUDIPTA.COM or her blogs NERDYCHICKSRULE.COM and NERDYCHICKSWRITE.COM


Starting on January 26, Sudipta is teaching a course on Character Building in Picture Books at Kidlit Writing School. For more information, visit this link: http://www.kidlitwritingschool.com/picture-book-a-to-zs-character-building.html

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SudiptaBardhanQuallen

Twitter: @SudiptaBQ

82 comments :

Nat Keller said...

Sudipta- thanks for the great post. In the last revision I was working on, I was attempting to do the show not tell, BUT by thinking of it as the balance between images and words. (Which is quite different from your post ). This reminder of what I SHOULD be doing will definitely make it "shinier" :D-- Thanks again!

landersen74 said...

Sudipta,
What a fun way to eliminate telling in a story. Like your humor!

Lori Mozdzierz said...

Thanks, Sudipta, for this helpful post! Amazing how a small word from that list can do so much. Or, should I say, "not enough" for a story.

flintsuter said...

My delighted laughter made all the animals come to my desk and gaze up at me as I read this post. (showing what happened, not telling) this was such a timely reminder!!
Thanks Sudipta, now I am ransacking the linen cupboard searching for the Q-tips to go after the belly button lint!

Janet Smart said...

Simple words of advice, but so important. Off to my manuscripts!

Heather Pierce Stigall said...

Thanks for the tip -- I am constantly looking for spots in my MS where I tell and don't show and this is a great way to weed through them bit by bit.

MegMillerWrites said...

This post cracks me up every time I read it. Thank you Sudipta! To be??? No, not to be!!! I keep picturing Sudipta busting into a Hamlet production to give a picture book lesson. :D

Tina Cho said...

Thanks, Sudipta. I'm on it! That is, going through my story for "to be" verbs!

Doris Stone said...

Great advice, Sudipta.Thank you!

Kimberly Cowger said...

Such good advice but something we often need reminded of. Thank you for this reminder Sudipta. I'm sure there is someone talented enough to craft you an award made out of ear wax and belly button lint for using those terms so much in your post. :)

Laura Zimmermann said...

A great post! Thanks.

Debra Shumaker said...

Yes, I am very guilty of overuse of "to be" verbs. Thanks so much for the reminders. And I'll look into your revision class - sounds perfect for me!

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen said...

Awesome, Debra! We are scheduled tentatively to start in April!

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen said...

NOOOOOOOOOO! :-)

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen said...

You're welcome!

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen said...

That is never going to happen - Shakespeare is above me!

pathaap said...

Fantastic post, Sudipta!

Joanne Sher said...

Oooh, Sudipta. You absolutely, totally, COMPLETELY made me laugh (and recite the verbs of being that I learned in seventh grade and STILL remember decades later!) - and gave me a fabulous tip to tighten and improve my writing. And does that class (in April, you say???) tempt me! THANK you to one of my very favorite PB authors. LOVE it!

Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

I am constantly on the hunt to replace "to be" and always despairing of the subsequent soaring word count! Your example: “We were terrified” is a tell. “We trembled like leaves” is an excellent and brief - only one additional word!

Nicole Popel said...

Great post, Sudipta! THANK YOU!

Kirsti Call said...

Sudipta! I loved this post and it's a great reminder. I'm definitely interested in your revision class. When are you teaching it?

Linda Schueler said...

Congratulations on your repeated use of "belly button lint" in a writing related post! Now I'm off to check out how many "to be" related words I used in the stories I am revising. Thanks for the post!

Tracy Molitors said...

Thanks for the advice, Sudipta - and also for the excellent examples (not to mention the marvelous metaphors)!

saputnam said...

Great post, Sudipta! The references to belly button lint cracked me up. Thank you for reminding us to check our manuscripts to see if we are overusing the “to be” verbs.

Rene` Diane Aube said...

Thanks for that great reminder, Sudipta! I don't know if there are any Spencer's gift shops where you are, but a long time ago I found a belly button brush for my hubby so he could clean out that lint from his caveronous...ooops TMI ;) Happy revising

Carrie Finison said...

Arming myself with Q-tips for my next round of revision. The is's and was's are trembling in their boots!

Juliana Lee said...

Finally starting to see show/tell in other people's writing... now time to find my own.

Kathy Halsey said...

Love the ear wax image. It clogs up our ears and hearing just like no-revison clogs our story and keep it from singing. I hope to take one of your classes some day. My grandson and I love TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS.

Janie Reinart said...

Sudipta, you make me laugh with the ear wax and belly button lint comments. :) Checking to make sure I show not tell.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen said...

Thank you, Kathy! Nice to "see" you here!

Sudipta said...

Hey Kirsti - the Revision class will start in April, right after the Character course ends!

Sydney O'Neill said...

Thanks for the reminder, Sudipta! I'm double-checking for both "to be" verbs and belly button lint.

AJ Irving said...

Great advice! Thank you, Sudipta!

mona said...

Her eyes stung from the red glare with each scratch of a "to be" word! Thanks, Sudipta

Cheryl Secomb said...

Hi Sudipta, Thank you so much for this very helpful (and funny) post. :-) We appreciate you taking the time to share with us today!

Jarmila V. Del Boccio said...

Great point, Sudipta! Perfect way (and easy to remember) to remind myself to SHOW not TELL. And I'm so guilty of that.😜

Rebecca Colby said...

I'm always telling other writers to show and not tell, but am so guilty of using 'to be' verbs. Time to take some of my own advice! Thanks for the reminder, Sudipta!

Virginia Rinkel said...

I just made a quick note of the most important part of Sudipta's great advice here, printed it, and tapped it along side of my computer (eye-level) so I am able to 'catch' myself on every sentence. Thank you Sudipta!

Rachel Stones said...

I love this post! Excuse me while I go slaughter some "to be" verbs.

Tanya Konerman said...

What a great method of show, don't tell! I plan to use this today! Thanks!

Charlotte Dixon said...

That urge to tell and not show is a bane for me. Thank you, Sudipta, for the analogy to ear wax and belly lint-that will stick in my mind-LOL

Carol Munro said...

The most exciting part of this post? Learning that you'll be doing a revision class, Sudipta. Thanks for this sneak peak tip.

JillSF1959 said...

I always think of it as killing off Hamlet before he gets the chance to utter his infamous soliloquy. :D I'll be looking into your class for April. Am doing Jodell's pacing class right now. Cheers!

Gabi Snyder said...

Thanks for the fantastic advice, Sudipta! The answer is not to "be"!

Tracy said...

Thanks for this fabulous suggestion, Sudipta, it is definitely one I'll be using again and again. (now to get waxy, belly button lint images out of my mind...) :D

Sue Frye said...

Terrific tip, Sudipta! Riding our manuscripts of those sneaky little tattle-telling to be words is a great short-cut to show don't tell!

jan godown annino said...

Gotta luv "Her jaw clenched and lasers practically shot out of her eyes,"
And yes, the lint & wax images, ah, stick. Great. Post.

Catherine said...

Brilliant advice. Have just checked out the 'to be' verbs in several of my stories. This one technique makes such a great difference! Thank you Sudipta :)

Ramona said...

I will check my manuscript right away for those little words! Thank you for sharing your tips Sudipta. :-)

Angie Karcher said...

Love this Sudipta! Belly button lint and all! I'm always adding the "no-no" words and ALWAYS must go back and clean it up. Thx for the reminder!!

Sharalyn A. Edgeberg said...

Great summary of Show Don't Tell. Sometimes tricky even when we think we know it. Thanks for the concrete examples.

Rebecca Sheraton said...

So true that you often lapse into these words when you are writing. Through revision you can see where you need to improve.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen said...

Yes, Carrie, you are right - young dialogue relies more heavily on to be. That's why this is more like a guideline than a rule (like the Pirates of the Caribbean....)

Robyn Campbell said...

Thank you for your wonderful post. I really enjoyed it. I use WAS more times than I care to admit.

Maria Oka said...

Fabulous! Going back over my recently revised manuscripts again with this in mind. Thanks Sudipta!

Cecilia Clark said...

simple, easy to remember and now I am going to print the verb to be in all its glory and stick on the wall with a big red NO at the top. Thank you Sudipta, thank you.

Elizabeth Brown said...

Great post! Wonderful to refresh this in my mind! Can't wait to revise more tomorrow! Thanks, Sudipta!

Erin Ball said...

I like that this is an easy 'flag' for mistakes. While figuring out how to show might take significant brain power, it's nice to find the weak parts of your mss so easily. This process can be so subjective and sometimes I pull my hair out evaluating whether I made my story better, tighter or just different. This helps eliminate some self doubt, some "I don't know if it was better how it was. "

Kirsten Peavy Bock said...

Who says revision isn't fun? I love a healthy dose of belly button lint removal from time to time!

Vivian Kirkfield said...

And that is why, dear Sudipta, you have 40+ picture books out there!!!
Thank you so much for your deceptively simple, yet brilliantly effective, process...just get rid of 'to be'...YES, MA'AM! And I love your concrete examples...for me,I learn best BY SHOW...NOT TELL. ;) ) Super post...great help during ReviMo and beyond!

Carrie Charley Brown said...

Thanks for the additional feedback! You are such a gem. :)

Teresa Robeson said...

Excising the verb "to be" is excellent advice! I do it when I'm slipping into lazy while writing, but it should be slayed during revisions. You definitely deserve an award for something, Sudipta...maybe for EWWWW Factor? :D

Sandy P said...

Simple advice that makes a big difference. Thanks, Sudipta!

Bethany Roberts said...

I may never be able to revise again without thinking of belly button lint! Seriously, thanks for the reminder about "to be"!

Maria Marshall said...

Very sound advice.I will look into the revision class too,Sudipta. A very great idea. Thanks for a wonderful post.

Pamela Courtney said...

Thank you, thank you for the examples of Show don't tell. Additionally, I'm from the part of the country where the word "Be" is used as a proper noun. Jk, but we use it with great regularity. That's the first part of my revision process, killing off the be's. Can be quite the pollutant. Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Well done.

Shirley Johnson said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing.

pennyklostermann said...

Thanks, Sudipta! And I'm really proud of the fact you used belly button lint and ear wax repeatedly in the same post...and that it made all kinds of sense :-)

Sue Heavenrich said...

she was passively crossing words out, muttering "to be or not to be" when she realized she had to be more active. So, clenching pen between fingers, she sliced a red line through every passive verb.
Thanks for the great post!

Rena Traxel Boudreau said...

Lol. Great revision tip.

Kelly Vavala said...

Bahahaha....love the belly button lint and ear wax! Wonderful post and a great reminder to get rid of "to be" verbs. Thanks for sharing your time with us!

Lauren Kerstein said...

Thank you for this helpful, concrete advice! Your use of the phrase "belly button lint" was incredibly impressive and frighteningly fitting! :)

Jen Swanson said...

Fabulous information! Thanks Sudipta

Lauri Meyers said...

The good news is: I love picking out belly button lint. (And ear wax too, but don't tell anyone) And it's always fascinating to look at that ball of fuzz and wonder how it got there. Sometimes I do that in revising too- how did I miss this chunk of junk???

Donna Cangelosi said...

Yet another fantastic post from Sudipta...and with a fun metaphor! Thank you so much for the excellent advice!

Suzy said...

The "show, don't tell" rule is pounded in my head and is so important in writing for children. So often kids are frequently told what to do; the last thing they want is to be told what to think and feel when reading a story. Oops! I used a *to be* verb. Thank you, Sudipta. ~Suzy Leopold

Yvonne Mes said...

Thank You! Love some practical advice!!!

Joanne Roberts said...

Great strategy, and thanks for offering a discount on your class! Summer school was outstanding, hard-work, and still just plain fun. Thank-you.

teresa m.i. schaefer said...

Had me laughing and intrigued from the first reference to ear wax and belly button lint -- great post! A++ for using these and making sense.

Annie Bailey said...

Saving this list!

Renata Wurster said...

Ooo, I like this suggestion. This is a weak area for me and one that can definitely use revision!

Laurie J. Edwards said...

Always good to look for telling rather than showing. Thanks for the reminder.