Copula Spiders

When I came across Attack of the Copula Spiders: Essays on Writing by Douglas Glover, I had to read it. This post originally appeared on the Magical Words blog.

I admit that I really enjoy teaching writing; therefore, I tend to read about writing quite a bit as well.

When I came across Attack of the Copula Spiders: Essays on Writing by Douglas Glover, I had to read it. It is, in short, about how to write a novel. I’ve not finished the book yet, and I admit to skipping ahead to the chapter on copula spiders (page 43, if you’re interested in that sort of thing). So, that’s where we’re going today.

Turn with me in your books to page 43.


Today’s post will be my thoughts on reading about spiders.

Ron loves spiders!

Not that kind of spider! This kind of spider!


“A copula spider occurs when a student uses the verb ‘to be’ so many times on a page that I can circle all the instances, connect them with lines, and draw a spider diagram on the page. Now there is nothing grammatically wrong with the verb ‘to be’, but if you use it over and over again your prose is likely to be flaccid and uninteresting. The reason for this is that the verb ‘to be’ is only a linking verb, a connector, something like an (=) equal sign. It does not make a picture or an image. It has no poetry” (49-50).

He later goes on to write, “The verb ‘to be’ doesn’t tell a story” (50).

Side note: There’s so much in this book that I’d like to talk about that I’ve considered requesting to teach a class on it. We’ll see if that goes anywhere.

The concept of the copula (linking verb) spider is one that I’ve been pondering for a few weeks now, and I think I have decided that it’s a valid point, something writers should consider.

However, that statement comes with a disclaimer.

Just eliminating linking verbs and replacing them with action verbs does not make one a good writer. It’s all the little things combined, all the things that we often take for granted–the experience we get from reading the classics of literature, new releases that take the industry by storm, or prize-winning novelists; the attention to detail in describing a room or an ancient ruin; the way we touch language and play with the words to see which one fits just right.

I believe the copula spider is just one tool in a vast toolbox that writers develop over their careers.

David recently talked about going back to some of the work that he’d written at the beginning of his career and recognizing how much his writing had grown. I think the same thing is going on here. We, as writers, should be aware of these things but not let them overtake us as we evolve and change and grow. Similarly, we shouldn’t depend on these kinds of things as the sole method of development.

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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