Jonathan Wood is the author of No Hero, the Lovecraftian urban fantasy that dares to ask, “What would Kurt Russell do?” He has, at this point, been allowed to be on his own for too long. More invective can be found on twitter (@thexmedic) or on his web site www.cogsandneurons.com.
Before I begin: I do realize that it’s generally considered rude if , when asked to attend someone’s party, you stand in the middle of said party shouting angrily, and showering bystanders with froth and invective.
It’s not going to stop me. But I do realize it.
So, the verb “to be.” “Am,” “is,” and all that jazz. An innocuous little verb. Two letters. Many consider it quite important as verbs go. Its got a whole branch of philosophy dedicated to it. I’d even go so far as to say it feels nice in the mouth when you say it. The explosive “b” softened by the drawn out vowel. Try it. “Be.” “Be.”
It should be obvious, of course, that this is all a diversion, this is all a mask to hide the truly insidious evil that the verb “to be” represents.
Do not be fooled by the brevity of “to be.” By its ubiquity. Do not be taken in by its guileless facade. That little bastard will happily sneak into every single one of your sentences and destroy them.
I’m editing right now. My second novel. And as deadlines loom, as my red pens bleed ink over my pages, there it is in every bloody sentence, that bastard little word peeking out at me, tearing apart my pacing, and generally trying to make my life a living hell.
Oh you think I exaggerate. Let us see then. Let us take an example. It’s only two words. “I’m running.” A harmless little sentence. With that harmless little verb. And, you might say, what’s the problem? It’s adding a single letter. It’s not even contributing a new syllable. It’s fine. Let it lie.
Well, if you say that, then you, sir, are an agent of the enemy.
Now, before you take umbrage at this accusation, consider for a minute the horror of the sentence, “I’m running,” versus the elegance, the unparalleled beauty of the sentence, “I run.”
“Are you shitting me?” you cry, my dear straw man. “It’s the same number of words! It’s only one syllable shorter!”
These are, of course, technically valid points. It doesn’t stop them, however, from being horseshit.
First of all, let’s face it, not all syllables are created equal. “I” vs “I’m.” Go on say them. I’ll wait. It won’t take long. But it would be even quicker if that bloody little “mmmmm” wasn’t there. It’s holding things up. It’s keeping us scuffing our toes, waiting for the good to come along. I’m writing an action novel, goddamit, I don’t have time to hang around while everyone goes “mmmm.”
Then there’s that gerund. “Running.” “Ing.” God, I hate gerunds. And yes it’s just one syallable, but that’s a whole extra fifty percent on this sentence. It’s added weight, unnecessary baggage. And gerunds breed like rabbits. Before you know it, you’ve got a paragraph dragging around fifteen extra “ings.” They are pacing parasites and you have my full permission to get medieval on their asses.
And it’s not just pacing. The evil of “to be” doesn’t just rest on its laurels there. Oh no. There’s the whole distancing issue too. Again, take a moment to appreciate the immediacy to “I run.” You’re there. Stride for stride. Agonized breath for agonized breath. Now, compare that to the laid back diffidence of “I’m running.” That’s a lazy sentence—someone stepping back to observe the action from afar. You might as well go the whole hog and say, “Oh look, there’s a chap over there who’s running. Isn’t that interesting. Now pass me my goddamn martini.”
This is a little much, you might say. More bile than the offenses of one verb require. Well, we’ll see who’s laughing when the apocalypse comes. When the verbs rise up against us all. When we’re pinned against the wall, incapable of action, trapped simply “being.” This was the warning sign, and you ignored it. We’ll see. Oh we’ll see.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a goddamn martini.