Most Common Writing Mistakes: Are You Using “There” as a Crutch?

most common writing mistakes 2When used as a pronoun, the utilitarian word “there” becomes an insidiously easy way for writers to get their point across.

“There” gets the job done, no doubt about it. But using “there” at the beginning of sentences and phrases is the lazy way out.

Whenever you see the word “there” used as a pronoun, you can be sure it’s being used as a crutch to hold up a weak and passive sentence.

“There” Creates Passive Sentences

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • There was a large wart on the scary old lady’s chin.
  • When Jackson looked across the room, he was shocked to see there were several policeman talking with his boss.
  • When in doubt, remember there is always more than one way to write a sentence.

Every single of one of these sentences is sagging with passive verbs and flabby imagery.

Actively Rejecting “There”

How much better would the above examples sound if we sent “there” packing and reworked them into more active constructions?

  • A large wart sprouted hair on the scary old lady’s chin.
  • When Jackson looked across the room, he froze. Several policeman stood talking with his boss.
  • When in doubt, remember you can always find more than one way to write a sentence.

When you get rid of the “there” constructions, you’re able to use snappier verbs, which in turn creates more easily visualized images and a stronger voice.

It’s true “there” is often a much easier—and even more natural—way to write. But if you stop and spend a little bit more time considering word choices, you can often create much stronger sentences.

“There” needn’t be expunged every time it crops up in your writing. Sometimes the word flow or the voice of your narrating character may work better with a few “there’s” scattered in your prose. But be aware of the downfalls.

Every time you find yourself typing “there” as a pronoun, reconsider your sentence. Would your scene offer more vibrancy, if you reworked the sentence with more active verbs?

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Do you think “there” contributes to a weak writing style? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I don’t consider “that” as egregious as “there,” if only because “that” doesn’t affect sentence structure. For the most part, it’s an invisible filler word. We usually find a more streamlined, punchier sentence without it, but it probably won’t ruin the sentence if we leave it in.

  2. The first thing that came to mind (okay second, after committing this tip to memory) was the line from Whedon’s Dollhouse, “There are three flowers in a vase…”

    “There” sure seemed efficient enough to turn one of the sleeper cells into a killing machine, but I’m assuming you didn’t have dialogue/scripts in mind when you wrote this.

  3. Well, if Whedon wrote it, I’m sure it’s a valid exception! 😉

  4. I had never thought about that before. Good points!

  5. Thanks for reading. I’m glad you were able to take something away from the post!

  6. “That” is another word easily cut. Usually goes with “there”

    Shelly knew that there were three red balls in the bowl.

    Shelly knew the bowl held three red balls.

  7. “That” isn’t a crutch so much as it is a filler. But, you’re right, it can almost always be cut without harming the sentence. Streamlining is always a good thing.

  8. Discovered the blog recently and just reading through the common mistakes posts. I had never considered how the use of ‘there’ could make a sentence weaker but I will be looking at my usage of it and trying to change to make my sentences stronger.

  9. “There” is one of those sneaky, seemingly innocuous words, that sneaks in on all of us. Fortunately, it’s both relatively easy and fun to correct.

  10. Love the series. I went back through all four of my manuscripts and was horrified to find the number of “lazy” sentences. Thank You. The resulting corrections made for a much better read. On a positive note, I found book 1 to be filled with many more than book 4. Always want to be improving, whether I know it or not! lol.

  11. So long as each story is a little better than the next one, you know you’re a successful author!

  12. Now there’s a solid piece of advice.

    OR

    The delightful K.M Weiland has provided us with yet another gem!

    I like shiny things.

  13. I like this, I’m definitely going to use the search/find feature to search for there’s and see if they indicate a lazy sentence. Thanks!

  14. Thank you for this. I’m writing my very first book. I’ve only written 44 pages but I searched for the word there and found it 30 times… I went through them and found it very easy actually to find another way of saying things without there.

    Thank you SO much for this.

  15. Just discovered your site – it’s brilliant! I just reduced my ‘there’ instances from 329 to 80 and tightened my overall text by 300 words as a result!

  16. K.M. – I have discovered this wonderful site and I’m immersing in your posts 🙂
    Oh yes, there is a slight problem with “there” in my writing… Ooops.
    Thank you for sharing your advice!

  17. This was an amazing post! I’ve been wondering what’s bogging down my writing. Turns out my sentences are full of passive words, and ‘there’ is probably the one that I use most often!

  18. I’ve caught myself overusing there as a word. Thanks for posting this, it’s a good reminder to hit Ctrl F and have a weeding session.

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