A state of being: what you are vs. what you want

There’s a piece of wisdom passed along the writing circles of this day and age: to round up your linking verbs and off ’em like turkeys on the week before Thanksgiving. At first glance it’s good advice– after all, the natural opposite of a static ‘was’ sentence would be an active sentence, right?


Not always. In fact, it’s easy to fall for the temptation to replace that simple ‘he was sad’ with something much longer and more flowery that, in the end, contains no more meaning than ‘he was sad’. Rather than turning a passive sentence active, you wind up with the dreaded purple prose.

The problem here is that people are thinking too much about the letter of the rule with the intention (if it doesn’t contain a single instance of ‘was’, it must be active, right?). So maybe it’s time to rethink states of being– that elusive thing that a character ‘is’ at any given moment.

When we think of emotion, we often think of it as a reaction. 

I haven’t eaten all day, therefore I’m hungry.

Her book got a bad review, so she’s sad.

He’s angry because he was insulted.

That line of thinking may be accurate, but it’s also passive. It makes the person feeling those things into an object to be acted upon, rather than an active agent.

Instead I challenge you to rethink emotion and states of being– not as something a character is, but as a thing they want.

In the most recent Sims game, all the characters have states of being called moodlets– happy, sad, uncomfortable, angry, etc– each of which triggers certain desires. A Sim who’s feeling embarrassed might have a sudden urge to hide from the world in their bed; a Sim who’s feeling feeling flirty might want to hug someone; an angry Sim might want to insult someone, and so forth.

What it looks like:

So let’s take a plain emotion:

Bob is angry at Jim.

Translate it into a desire, and you have:

Bob wants to punch Jim in the face.

The fact that Bob’s angry at Jim still comes across, but without that pesky ‘is’. Of course, repeating ‘Bob wants’ every paragraph is boring. So you can take it a step further. Figuring out what the character wants makes it that much easier to find a physical expression of that desire:

Bob clenches his fist.

Some further examples:

  • Sue was disgusted.
  • Sue wanted to throw up.
  • Sue tasted vomit rising in her throat.


  • Dave is hungry.
  • Dave wants a sandwich.
  • Dave’s stare keeps straying to Dana’s sandwich during their conversation.

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