Rid Your Writing of the Passive Voice

In the simplest definition: When a verb is in the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the verb’s action rather than being the ‘doer’ of the action. For example, in “The football was thrown by the quarterback,” the football (the subject) receives the action of the verb. A better and therefore active version of the example sentence would be: “The quarterback threw the football.” When the subject becomes obscured, it makes understanding difficult for the reader.

Editing from passive voice to active is a simple fix that will improve your writing.

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Sometimes Passive Voice Is Difficult To Spot

Here are a couple of small paragraphs for your consideration.

Jorguth fished the scroll from his sack and offered it to Maselle. She opened the rolled vellum and admired the exquisite and pain-staking beauty of the penmanship. The spell was written in elegant Elven calligraphy in black and red ink.

Dusk’s sunset burned red on the horizon. The vast open landscape was filled with magnificent looking trees, shrubs, and flowers. Jorguth smiled as his eyes soaked in the beauty of the view.

Did you spot the two passive sentences?

Is There a Correct Time or Place for Passive Voice?

The best way to use the passive voice is in dialog, specifically when a character is trying to shirk responsibility.

“Well, some mistakes were made. But I have faith a solution will be found.”

Did you notice that nobody receives credit for the mistakes? Later, if the problem is not resolved, it is the “solution’s” fault for remaining elusive. .” (Listen carefully to Politicians in the future.)

A Simple Solution

Use the “find” function on your word processor and search for forms of “to be” like was and were. Even if your sentences are not passive, you should filter those words out. I once blogged about removing forms of “to be” in order to speed up your writing. Too many instances of the offending verb can make your writing slow down to a crawl.

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A New Year: Hello 2018, Good-Bye 2017

As I look back upon 2017, I realize that I set up writing goals for the year that make me want to stop for a moment and say to myself, “Just what were you thinking?” Let’s face it; I set up an impossible level. Yes, under normal circumstances those goals were not far-fetched. However, I made them in January and did not completely understand the time involved with raising a new born. So, before I get on about the future writing hopes and dreams concerning the New Year 2018, let’s review 2017.

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Looking Back at 2017

January: Finished the renovation of the guest room and started on the nursery.

February: Wrote the final short story for the new collection.

March: The stork delivered Little Frankie.

April: Edited 5 chapters of my fantasy novel and placed them in the Beta Reader Manuscript.

May: The Baptism of Little Frankie. We had a house full of guests.

June: Completed third draft of two more short stories.

July: Wrote the first chapter from a sudden bolt of inspiration for a Sci-Fi series.

August: Adopted another stray cat named Moogie.

September: Edited another 5 chapters, which brought the total up to 15 of 28.

October: Wrote a series of blog posts for NaNoWriMo prepping.

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November: Completed draft version 0.5 for the third novel to round out a trilogy.

December: Edited another 5 chapters, which now brings the total up to 20 of 28.

Looking Ahead to 2018

I’m going to keep it simple for 2018. 1) Finish editing and release the first book of the Tales of Tyrennia Series and 2) Finish editing and release a collection of seven short stories. I do not plan on writing anything new. I’d rather just clean up and finalize the various piles of previous drafts.

How was your 2017? And what are you planning to write or edit during 2018?

P.S. *I wrote this post on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day a sudden flash came upon me. I wound up writing the first chapter of a new campy and quirky series. Faceplant!

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Setting A Proper Goal

According to Chris Baty in his book “No Plot? No Problem!” a deadline is one of the most powerful writing tools around. Deadlines are what keep all those newspapers and magazines generated on time, after all. That’s why every NaNoWriMo event has one. However, NaNoWriMo’s set goal of a particular word-count by a specific date is a goal that cannot be amended. Therefore, for NaNo, quality is the goal that should be tweaked.

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Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

The Principle of Exuberant Imperfection

According to Chris, in order to make something beautiful, you first have to make something ugly. This is the definition of Exuberant Imperfection, and is one of the principles where my thinking was completely wrong (I mentioned wrong thinking in a previous post concerning NaNoWriMo 2017). At times I used to stare at my screen trying to craft a perfect beat, or to replace a weak weasel verb. But I’ve learned now that the first draft is not the time to be doing that. Neither is the second draft, for that matter.

Have you ever seen a board freshly ripped from a log? It’s ugly. Once I made a pot rack that started as such a board, jagged and with an uneven surface ten times rougher than a burlap sack. The first thing I had to do was plane the wood to make it look like a piece of stock that one would buy in a Home Depot type of store. Only then could I shape it into its final form.

However, do not misconstrue my meaning. The object is not to aim low, but rather not to set an unattainably high bar. Remember the wise words of Hemingway, “the first draft of anything is a piece of shit.” Just write and keep writing; worry about the small details later when you edit.

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How Will You Approach NaNoWrimo 2017?

Have you been setting the bar too high? I know I have done that in the past, and therefore this year will be different. Let me know if this way of thinking will help with your NaNoWriMo 2017 writing project.

 

 

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Immersion: Closing the Gap between Reader and Character

I saw a Facebook post recently that asked the question, “What mistakes did you make in your early writings?” Naturally, I offered an honest answer. In past scribbling, I was guilty of “distancing” my readers from my characters. However, I have since learned how to close the gap between reader and character.

What Are Distancing Phrases?

You create distance by telling what the character saw, as opposed to letting the reader see through the character’s eyes. Instead of listing every possible manner of distancing and its fix, I’ve decided to write a small paragraph which displays distancing. Yes, I know there’s an element of the old Show vs. Tell going on here, but I’m concentrating on the relationship between reader and character.

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This Is True for Filmmaking as Well

Remember the last time you watched a well-made film? You were completely immersed into the world and characters presented to you. So much so, that you forgot about the real world. Notice what happens if the film breaks or if there’s a commercial interruption. You become jolted out of the immersion.

A Sample

Let’s say your main character is John. Here’s some text loaded with distancing.

John offered the diary to Mary. He could see her hand trembling with nervous trepidation as she grabbed the little green journal. “The page is marked,” John said. He watched as she took hold of the white ribbon and turned to the infamous page. As her eyes scanned the entry, John noticed her curled lip.

She closed her eyes and dropped the book. “I can’t believe my sister did something like that.”

He felt terrible about revealing the truth to Mary and decided to hug her.

Therefore…

If the main character is John, then everything written is from his point of view. Everything seen, felt, smelled, or heard happens through him. Therefore there is no need for “He could see…”, “He watched…”, or “He felt terrible…” Also, once these distancing expressions are removed, you get locked into heightening the points for added drama while editing.

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A Rewrite

John offered the diary to Mary. Her trembling hand reached out and then recoiled away. He stretched out his arm, forcing the book closer to her. “The page is marked.”

After a deep breath, she held out her hand. John planted the little green journal into her palm.

She opened it to the infamous page marked with a piece of white ribbon. Her lip curled as her eyes scanned the entry. “I can’t believe my sister did something like that.”

With an aching in his chest, he lurched forward, wrapped his arms around her and drew her close.

Guilty

There is a vast difference between my first short story, “Stasis,” and my latest one, “Night Flights.” Although improved, I was still not completely satisfied with my writing. However, I’ve learned so much about editing over the past year, and have applied that knowledge to my forthcoming fantasy novel.

How About You?

Did your early writing distance the reader? Did you do a bit too much “telling” and block your readers from getting immersed in your characters and world?

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Beware: Head Hopping or P.O.V Shifting

Head Hopping is also known in certain circles as P.O.V (Point of view) shifting. These jumps can be overt or even jarring to a reader. Sometimes head hopping can be subtle and therefore difficult to spot in an editing pass. Can you spot the head hopping / P.O.V shifting instances in the following passage?

Of course I tossed in some changes in narration as well, just for “poops” and giggles.

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If done correctly, head hopping is perfectly fine. In the Game of Thrones series, George R.R. Martin titles his chapters after different characters. And that named character commands the P.O.V for that particular chapter. Also, you can use a page break, which is probably the technique most often used. Page breaks lend themselves well in third person narration. They are like flags which will prevent confusion between text and reader.

Which head hopping occurrence was the most difficult to spot? How about the shifts in narration?

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Review: Emotional Beats by Nicholas C. Rossis

I am not one of those authors with a veritable library of craft books, because I tend to be quite selective in my choices. However, Emotional Beats: How to Convert Your Writing into Palpable Feelings by Nicholas C. Rossis is a writing resource that I can heartily recommend.

First, there is the opening five-page essay on beats, how to use them, why they are necessary, etc.. I especially enjoyed Nick’s analogy of comparing writing to painting. Although short, the introduction should leave no doubt as to the importance of giving your characters a proper beating. 🙂

EBEatsThe rest of the book is divided into four parts, Feelings and Emotions, Body Parts, Other Beats, and Extras.

Part I: Feelings and Emotions

For me, this section comprises the genius of this book. The different beats used to convey emotions are fleshed out. However, unlike the famous emotion thesaurus, each emotion is sub-divided into the separate body parts.

For example, the first emotion is Anger. The many ways to describe Anger are broken down by eyes, face and head, hands, and voice. To make things even better, all emotions are presented as different from each other. The different ways to express Joy are feet, hands, laughter, and smile.  Joy is explored through a completely different subset of body language from Anger.

Part II: Body Parts

In this section you’ll find clever ways to describe the motion of body parts and facial expressions. There’s even a section on breath and the different ways to express hearing. The largest sub-section is dedicated to eyes, because so many different emotions can be conveyed. For me, the most interesting list concerns head motions for a nod. Whether the nod is emphatic or subtle, they also can be used to prevent repetitive wording.

Part III: Other Beats

Here is where one gains an appreciation for Nick Rossis’ attention to painstaking details. Besides using a beat to portray emotion, Mr. Rossis has delved through many other aspects of physical movement that occur while a character is interacting with the world around them.

Think about how many times a character walks, sits, stands, or fights. Even the act of opening doors, eating, drinking, and driving are explored. For fantasy or western authors, there’s a section for the movements of horses as well.

Part IV: Extras

As the name of the section implies, the final part is a hodgepodge of techniques to fine tune your writing. The main body of “Extras” contains a list of strong verbs options, aiding and advising humble authors. Picking through this list should add some extra polish to your manuscript. There’s also a section for Describing Death, Synonyms, Sensory Words (remember to let your character experience their five senses), Crying, Snoring, and Writing. Nick Rossis doesn’t take credit for everything. He acknowledges other authors who have contributed.

So far, I’ve referred to Emotional Beats several times in the course of editing my novels and short stories. However, at times, I’ve made changes to an existing manuscript simply because this book has sharpened my eyes. I was able to spot something dull and augment the quality without referring back to any lists.

Emotional Beats: How to Convert Your Writing into Palpable Feelings is a must have craft book for indie authors who have to do a lot of self-editing. I have to congratulate Nick Rossis. He has thrown down the gauntlet in the war against indie-author stigma by giving us this valuable tool.

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A Growing Manuscript

The editing and building of the beta manuscript for my fantasy novel “An Easterly Sojourn” (working title) is going well so far. I believe we (the Queen and I) have gotten through the most difficult chapter yet. The challenge stemmed from morphing two separate chapters into one. Apparently, chapter 17 (On the Edge of Jalken) had nothing happening, but it contained some wonderful scenes and clever dialog. We realized those snippets would serve to enhance chapter 15 (The Changing of the Guard).

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Inserting things here and there meant correcting the time and position of the characters. Of course the task turned out to be more complicated than I had imagined. For example, the character Cyril exits in order to speak with a Lieutenant. However, in some of the added scenes, he had returned.  Also, some characters start in the rear of a wagon, and then are suddenly either on the side of the road or in the driver’s seat. These continuity quirks had to be handled along with the regular editing process.

The original draft had 28 chapters. But now that we’ve blended two of them, that number is down to 27. Therefore, I can happily report that the beta manuscript has 15 of 27 chapters completed…almost home.

Tell me about your Works In Progress (WIP). Have you ever had to make continuity corrections from putting together pieces from different chapters?

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Call Me Crazy Because…

I started writing a Sci-Fi novel, the first of a series for Camp NaNo 2017. Why is that crazy? Because I have two #fantasy novels, one novelette, and eight short stories sitting on the editing pile.

Blame #CampNaNo 2017

During the last week of June, I decided to not participate in Camp NaNo 2017. The sight of my editing list (I’m staring at it right now. It looks like a hideous monster waiting to consume me) was beginning to get on my nerves. As I sat in front of my computer in my writing space ready to work on the dreaded editing backlist, a flash went through my mind like a lightning bolt, a special delivery from the writing muse herself.

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Suddenly I saw a series of Sci-Fi novels based upon a single main character. This is quite a different approach from my current novels. For my fantasy series, The Tales of Tyrennia, I can go anywhere within that world and write about something within a particular Kingdom.

I could’ve made some notes and put the Sci-Fi series on a back-burner for a rainy day, but no-ooooo. People, or should I say other authors made a few Facebook posts about Camp NaNo 2017. Then other authors chimed in about their projects and preparations; the temptations overwhelmed me.

Let The Insanity Begin

I can’t dedicate my usual time during this NaNo session on account of Little Frankie, but so far I’ve completed the first chapter. Also, I must say, the words are coming easier and my first draft quality is a giant stride away from the drafts of my first scribblings. Hopefully, as I hammer this one out, I won’t have to spend as much time on numerous editing passes.

Perhaps, the change has occurred because I haven’t written new material in a long time. I have kept my nose to the grindstone with minute editing details for an extended period of time; those long hours have honed my wordsmithing skills.

In The End

I’ll try to write a follow up post on August 1st and let you know how things turned out for the month. Of course, I’m going to ask the same of you.

What are you doing for Camp NaNo 2017? How many WIPs have you abandoned this month?

An Easterly Sojourn: Chapter 7 Added

Every time The Queen and I are done #editing a chapter, I copy and paste it into a large manuscript document. That is the one which will get printed and sent off to Beta Readers. The file now contains the first seven chapters of my fantasy novel, An Easterly Sojourn.

What’s the big deal about chapter 7? Why didn’t I write a post after chapter six or five?

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Public Domain Image Courtesy of Pixabay

 

The current draft of An Easterly Sojourn has 28 chapters. Therefore, adding chapter 7 to the manuscript file means that we’re 25% complete. That is to say, if one goes by chapter count rather than words or pages. For me, the sweat beads are lessening. I bragged in a post a couple of weeks ago that this #fantasy novel will be published rather than should be published.

Doesn’t Endless Editing Get Tiresome?

Yes it does. However, there are some short stories to edit as well. The tedium level reduces when you jump between different types of work and I don’t feel stagnated or repetitive. I even switch between projects while #writing as well. Perhaps I’ll put the brakes on after chapter 10 and switch to one of the short singles waiting on the proverbial “back-burner.”

Do you switch between projects? Does working on a single project, whether writing or editing become tiresome after a while?

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2017: A Prolific Writing Year

Hopefully, 2017 will be my most active year as an indie author.

The first novel in my fantasy series, “The Tales of Tyrennia Book One: An Easterly Sojourn” will be (not should be) released this year. The editing is cruising along. The problem was continuous editing. We would get about seven chapters done, and then either the Queen or I would learn something new and start over again.

2017

 

The reason we would jump into repetitive editing was simple. We were not satisfied with the end product. Therefore, after learning something new about editing, it seemed obvious to go back to square one.

I’m happy to report that I am satisfied with the quality. As we complete each chapter, I create a manuscript file. I can’t wait to print out copies and send them off to beta readers.

Draft version 0.5 of “The Tales of Tyrennia Book Two: The Frozen War” is done and waiting in the wings. I call it version 0.5 because of my scant writing style. A strange habit, but rather than cutting the first draft down, mine tend to swell.

What About Short Stories?

I’m so glad you asked. Two short singles will be released as well in 2017, “Little Red Revolution,” and “Psychic Confidence.”

“Little Red Revolution” is a best described as a satirical-vampyrical-romp. I had some compañeros from my former critique group who enjoyed #writing vampire fiction. So, I put this piece together mostly as gag and to poke some fun at the genre. In the end, they loved it.

“Psychic Confidence” should finish up at around five-thousand words. It’s a thriller with a complicated plot, coupled with characters that have aliases. I had worries that I could lose a reader too easily, but my first reader breezed through it without any problems.

There will also be a new collection of #shortstories called “Wondrous Stories: Seven Vile Uplifting Tales.” The stories are quite an assortment. However, there are some binding themes running throughout. Like, what happens when the iron fist of government points a finger at you? Or what happens when individualism clashes with a mob mentality?

Although I’m talking about a lot of work, I have a feeling that 2017 is going to be a very good year.

What are your goals, writing or otherwise for 2017? Are you #PoweredByIndie?

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