The Perils of Passive Voice (The Self-Editing Guide Part 5)

“I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a quality of majesty. If you find instruction manuals and lawyers’ torts majestic, I guess it does.” —Stephen King’s On Writing

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Stephen King states it perfectly. How many times have you, as a reader, felt intrigued by an instruction manual or legal document? Do you begin, with enthusiasm, the terms of service before selecting “I agree”? Or do you skim over them and only refer to the visuals when assembling the item? If you said yes to the latter, keep reading. If you said yes to the former, well, I’m not sure what to do with you. You probably have a bright future in the legal field, so there’s that. For all the normal people, however, in this article, I’ll be addressing the topic of passive voice and how to avoid it in your own writing.

With passive voice, something is being done to the subject. With active voice, the subject is doing something.

The dog was picked up by Timmy.

We’ll start with an example for those who are hearing about this for the first time. This sentence is a prime example of passive voice. Notice how timid and bland it reads. Let’s reword it.

Timmy picked up the dog.

This sentence is an example of active voice. It’s direct and confident. The writer sounds sure of himself and nothing is left unsaid.

In the first sentence, notice how you could write it as The dog was picked up. and leave off the last two words. With passive voice, the sentence will either end with by [noun] or it will make perfect sense to add that phrase to the end of it. So as you’re editing your manuscript, try adding by [whatever noun you choose] to the end of each sentence. If it makes sense, you’re using passive voice and need to reword it. Also, look for the word was when proofreading your manuscript. It’s another indicator that you’re using passive voice.

The lake was dried up by too much sun and lack of rain. —Passive

Too much sun and lack of rain dried up the lake. —Active

Starting to see a pattern here? Good. Again, was is present in the first sentence and it ends with by too much sun and lack of rain. The second sentence is simple and reads much more smoothly without those tell-tale signs.

Always choose active when you can. Readers want excitement and boldness from you, especially during an action scene. I can’t count how many times I have read or edited a novel where it felt more like things were happening in slow motion—like the bullets were literally flying at a snail’s pace—all because the author made this and a couple other mistakes (we’ll discuss those in another article). You want those action scenes to be a rush for your readers. You want those bullets to whizz by, and you want your main character to jump into action. Unless you’re actually going for the slow-motion effect you see in movies, you definitely don’t want your readers to visualize it that way. And even then, there are other techniques you should utilize to express to your audience the intensity of the situation. No one should be falling asleep while reading your novel. And if you stick to active voice, no one will.

There are other things I believe weaken your narrative and slow down the action, but I’ll get to them in future articles. And sure, there are times for passive voice—like when you don’t know who is doing something to the subject. You can’t necessarily name the person, place, or thing if you haven’t yet identified it. You’ll find this more often in mystery novels or a scene where the reader doesn’t yet have all the facts. As always, use your own judgment. Quoting one of my recently posted memes on writing: “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 


King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2000. pp. 122- 4.

Advertisements

Starting Over with Grammar (The Self-Editing Guide Part 4)

Last week, a fellow writer asked me an important question: “What do you suggest as a good resource when editing your novel?” Well, that’s not verbatim, but pretty much. This question made me recall how I felt when just starting to consider “becoming a writer” and beginning that first (serious) novel with the intent to self-publish. I had no confidence. It didn’t matter the good grades I’d gotten in college or how there were little-to-no red marks on my reports when I got them back. I still couldn’t quite recall all the rules I’d learned in elementary about grammar and punctuation. I knew even then that good or bad grammar would either make or break my writing career. I knew things had to be as close to perfect as possible or people would roll their eyes and drop the book I’d worked so hard on, never to be picked up again.

4

So before I allowed myself to begin that first paragraph, I decided to start over from the beginning. I found a cheap class online over grammar and punctuation, and I devoted every morning to watching the videos and learning the basics. As if I were hearing these rules for the first time, I wrote everything down. Detailed notes would help me once I’d finished the class and could not go back to reference. Just reconfirming what I already knew and refreshing things I had almost forgotten helped build my confidence tremendously. Something I’d put off for years because I felt I didn’t have enough experience and wasn’t yet qualified now seemed like a possibility for the near future. But I didn’t stop there, and you shouldn’t either. Fast forward three years, and I’ve learned a few of the best tricks to make writing with proper grammar and punctuation go from a foreign language to something you can do in your sleep.

Number One: Get your hands on a seventh-grade English textbook. This may seem silly or you may feel like I’m insulting you—don’t think that—but seventh-grade is the perfect level for you to begin writing your novel. All the basic rules and then some have been covered, and most of it is a review of things learned in the previous grades. So it makes for the perfect, condensed guide if you wish to start from the beginning. Read it from cover to cover. Seriously. Just spend a bit of time going over all the rules and refresh your memory on basic sentence structure, the verb-noun relationship, the Oxford comma, etc. This will help you begin your rough draft at a higher level, and the editing process that comes later will be much simpler. You’ll also want to keep the book on your desk or close by to reference when editing. I suggest you look in old bookstores or resell shops—even a few yard sales might have something you could use as a refresher and save you a few bucks. However, if you would like to save yourself the hassle of searching high and low for one, Amazon always has a range of books on the subject.

Here’s my pick (it won’t break the bank, and it even has a Kindle version): Mastering Grammar (Practice Makes Perfect Series)

Number Two: Join some writing groups with workshops. Writers Unite! offers weekly workshop-type posts that cover many different tips on writing. Many of them cover popular and controversial topics such as when to use “that” and when to cut it out. These are subjects you may not see in an English textbook, but getting such things right is just as important as knowing when to put a comma (hint, hint: It’s not every time you pause mid-sentence). Just search “Workshop” in the group and they should all come up. Many times Deb encourages other members to comment their own tips and tricks or teach a lesson over a grammar pet peeve they have. It’s great to connect with more experienced authors and learn from them what they probably had to learn the hard way. You should join as many beneficial groups you find and soak up all the knowledge they have to offer, but Writers Unite! is definitely one of my favorites when it comes to showing new authors the way.

Join here: Writers Unite!

Number Three: I’m about to sell you on something, but you should keep reading anyway. If you’re new to the writing community, you may not know anything about the different manuals of style. This bit of knowledge is crucial if you plan to query an agent or expect your self-published book to look professional enough to hold its own against traditionally published books. And if you’re an editor, this becomes your go-to guide for the final word on everything you THINK you know. The Chicago Manual of Style is the style publishing companies follow, and they expect your manual to be formatted under the guidelines specified if you submit to them. However, the guide is so much more than how to properly format your novel. It’s about 2.5 to 3 inches thick and covers every question you could possibly have—including all the ones you haven’t yet imagined asking. I used it during a recent editing gig and it was a lifesaver. It earned a spot on my desk from then on. The latest edition is on sale, so right now might be a good time to invest in your writing career by buying this guide.

Get it on Amazon here: The Chicago Manual of Style: 17th Edition

These three are my favorite tips when authors ask me how to improve their grammar and edit effectively. Have any other resources to share? Feel free to comment below with what has worked for you.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below.

Facebook

Twitter

Website

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk: Guest Dr. Josh Duchan, author of “Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man”

Host Paul Reeves of Impact Radio USA’s Dr. Paul’s Family Talk program interviews author Josh Duchan about his newest book, Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man.

Click here to listen:  https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/pwr/episodes/2017-06-19T13_52_33-07_00

Dr. Joshua S. Duchan, professor of Music at Wayne State University. Dr. Duchan’s newest book, Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man was released last week and it sold out on the first day! (NOTE: Check for hard copy availability. Kindle downloads are available now).

From the Rowman and Littlefield website:

“Despite his tremendous success, Billy Joel’s gifts as a composer and commentator on American life are long overdue for a thorough investigation. In Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man, music historian Joshua S. Duchan looks at the career and music of this remarkable singer-songwriter, exploring the unique ways Joel channels and transforms the cultural life of a changing America over four decades into bestselling song after song and album after album.

(https://rowman.com/Page/RowmanLittlefield)

text_divider_pz

ImpactradioUSA 1

Live shows air Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 a.m. EST  (Repeated at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. EST)

IMPACT RADIO USA provides the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year.

Click here to listen 

http://www.impactradiousa.com/listen-live.html
(click on the LISTEN LIVE button)

OR

Head straight to the audio by going to the following:

http://streaming.radio.co/sb17f7f4fa/listen

 

If you are interested in arranging an interview on the “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” show on IMPACT RADIO USA, please private message Deborah Ratliff on Facebook.

Happy New Year from Writers Unite!

A new year, a new start, always exciting!  All those New Year’s resolutions we make and sometimes keep!

If one of your resolutions was to begin to write or finish that short story or poem or novel, then join us at Writers Unite! on the web or on Facebook. Forty thousand plus members of Writers Unite! interact, discuss, mentor, and hone their writing skills on our Facebook site. We can help you keep at least one of your resolutions!

You can find us on WordPress at https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/.

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WriterUnite16  or Instagram: WritersUniteonInsta

We look forward to spending the next year writing with you!