The following is from a lesson for a Story Circle Network class I taught titled “Summer Fun and Games for Writers.”
When I ask you to describe a character, you will be tempted to write using forms of the verb to be. He is tall, she is plump, they are chained at the hip. I challenge you: write without a single form of the verb “to be.” You can do it!
The movement known as E-Prime (short for English-Prime) is focused on achieving this change in written and spoken English. Use of E-Prime reduces the possibility of misunderstanding or conflict. It also leads to a focus on the experience of the author, rather than the generic truth of the author’s statement. As stated on Wikipedia, “Some people use E-Prime as a mental discipline to filter speech and translate the speech of others. For example, the sentence ‘the movie was good’ could translate into E-Prime as ‘I liked the movie’ or as ‘the movie made me laugh.’ The E-Prime versions communicate the speaker’s experience rather than judgment, making it harder for the writer or reader to confuse opinion with fact.”
Using E-Prime, “He is tall” can become “He stooped to pass through doorways.” “She is plump” draws more sympathy as “She eyed the chair carefully before trusting it with her bulk.” “They are chained at the hip” gets a complete re-write—besides its flabby verb, it has the ring of familiarity, meaning a cliche or a stereotype to be avoided.
Try using E-Prime. It will keep your writing more active, and challenge your brain to find new ways to say exactly what you mean. (Now if I could just find an original phrase to fix that last example…)