But there’s another use of was—progressive tense, when the subject performs an ongoing action. Ellen was crossing the street. This is not passive. Sometimes showing progressive action is the only way to make sense. Ellen was crossing the street when a car hit her. If I say Ellen crossed the street when a car hit her, it gives an entirely different picture.
Here’s a bit from The Peeper where I thought telling worked better.
Julie hung there, her bare ass balanced over his shoulder, her pale hair swinging against the man’s hips. The quick glimpse was enough. Poor Julie. Hot tears ran down Elliott’s cheeks. That image would haunt him forever.
I could have substituted something more colorful for was, but this is in Elliott’s point of view and The quick glimpse sufficed or The quick glimpse satisfied Elliott would sound stilted and unnatural, at least to my ear.
How do you feel about was? Do you think it has a legitimate use in fiction? Do you go to great lengths to avoid it? When do you use it (if you do)? Have any examples you’re willing to share? I’d really like to know your thinking on this.