“There is” and “there are” are commonly used in the English language. What some people may not know is that there is a clutter word. It’s indirect and doesn’t convey much meaning other than indicating the existence of something. This leads to another problem: a boring verb.
“Wait a minute,” you might be saying. “Sometimes using there is the only logical way to express an idea.” You’re absolutely right. For instance, the phrase let there be light would sound weird written in any other way. What would be the alternative? Let light commence? Allow the presence of light?
Most of the time, however, we can come up with a more dynamic sentence without the use of there. Here’s an example:
- There was gunfire in the stairwell.
Although gunfire would normally evoke a strong emotion, the way this sentence is written is no more interesting than saying that a meeting took place in the conference room. Consider these alternatives:
- Gunfire popped in the stairwell.
- A shot rang out in the stairwell.
These sentences zing with energy. Rang and popped activate our sense of hearing and bring us into the action.
When searching for a way to fix this problem, it helps to identify the subject of the sentence. It isn’t there. In the first example, “there was gunfire in the stairwell,” gunfire is the subject. Once you’ve identified the subject, you can rework with a new verb—or even a new subject and verb if your tinkering leads to something you like better.
Here’s another example:
- There he stood, waiting, slouched against the windowsill. There was a cigarette in his hand, smoking itself to a slow death.
- He slouched against the windowsill, waiting, the cigarette tucked in his hand smoking itself to a slow death.
Nonfiction benefits from this kind of revamp as well. Sometimes we don’t want to state the subject because it amounts to pointing fingers, but you don’t have to name names to come up with a more interesting turn of phrase. Consider the following example:
- There was a budget deficit in 2011. There will be an attempt to make up for it in 2012.
Ah, the dull plod of bureaucratese. You may not want to say who is responsible for the budget deficit, but you don’t have to. Decipher the gist of the information and rewrite:
- This year’s greatest challenge lies in securing funds to make up for 2011’s budget deficit.
Go ahead and give it a try. Turn on the find feature on your word-processing software and see if you come up with a there or two in your latest writing project. Then enjoy the metamorphosis as your language becomes more active and dynamic.
Remember, if your passages are sluggish, there is an easy fix.