To Be or Not to Be


In Sin and Syntax, Constance Hale writes, “In speaking and informal writing, we naturally gravitate to ‘to be’ in all its incarnations – present tense and past, active voice and passive. But a reliance on ‘to be’ is a sure sign of a novice writer.”

I am guilty. Did Shakespeare get away with ‘to be’ because he couldn’t make up his mind? For years his famous line has spurred me on “to be.” “To be” more of a writer, “to be” more of a man, “to be” more of a human. And yet, Constance declares me at the starting gate. Years of writing and being a writer, and I am a novice.

Why do I find this so disturbing? I confess, but I am not free. I find “to be ” a novice is tantamount to being boring. Or being an introvert. Wait! I now think both of those quite acceptable. Not so with “to be.” I agree with Constance. I will get it out of my system. I will read on with what she says without angst.

6 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be

  1. chloeroberts93 April 7, 2014 / 6:03 am

    I agree with this; Shakespeare was clearly sitting on the fence when he wrote his “to be or not to be” speech. The reader in particular doesn’t want to be let hanging.

    • fictionfitz April 8, 2014 / 5:26 am

      A good expression, but not a good place to be. :>)

  2. vanyieck April 7, 2014 / 8:03 pm

    With all due respect to Constance Hale, her advice is horse hockey. There are two kinds of people in the writing world: those who write, and those who tell those who write why they are doing it wrong. My advice to you is to write.

    • fictionfitz April 8, 2014 / 5:25 am

      I must say if I have to listen to a grammarian, Constance is softer on the ears than most. Then again, your advice to write is at the top of my list of what to do. I always like better suggestions on what to do than what not to do.

  3. evelyneholingue April 9, 2014 / 4:31 pm

    Sometimes “to be” in all its forms is a better choice than any other verb.
    An American expression such as “Be that way,” illustrates that the verb “to be” can be strong.
    But more often, a well-chosen verb without an adverb will have a stronger impact.
    Being a work-in-progress I appreciate your posts and the comments of your readers.

    • fictionfitz April 10, 2014 / 7:03 am

      Hi Evelyn, great comment. Didn’t realize the strength of “be” until your comment. “BE that way” is a terrific indicator of its strength. I wonder in what year that came into use.

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