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.

Did you find this strategy helpful?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Indie Book Review: The Seventh Seed by Allison Maruska

Put on your seatbelts for this roller-coaster-rocket-ride dystopian thriller.

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Within the pages of The Seventh Seed we meet Javier, a prodigy of the scientific community. He has accidentally stumbled onto a horrid truth concerning a corporation called LifeFarm. For the most part, LifeFarm is almighty and all-powerful. The tentacles of this mega-corporation control science, government, media, and therefore the minds of most people. Through the course of the book, Javier meets other like-minded individuals who work together to pull the proverbial rug out from under LifeFarm.

There’s an extensive cast of important characters, and to Allison Maruska’s credit, they are quite distinct. Let’s just say they each have a unique reason for their involvement.

Plot: Everything seems plausible and believable. Things happen quickly; Allison obviously had many threads to juggle and yet managed to stay on track. Also, I was quite impressed by some of the science. Just enough was presented to make everything believable without getting too geeky. Several subplots were smoothly weaved into the story. I especially liked the tête-a-tête exchanges between Charlie and Mattson, and the romance angles (sorry, no spoilers) weren’t overdone.

Writing Quality: Allison has an easy, readable style. I did not have to backtrack or stumble over oddly constructed sentences. Obviously, she and Editor Dan Alatorre revised and smoothed things out most assiduously.

The dialog was short and snappy without long-winded speeches or info-dumps.

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Allison Maruska has displayed an adept hand when it comes to mixing in beats, interior thoughts, body language and descriptions. I didn’t notice any show/tell problems, distancing words, or echoing headwords. She squarely put the reader into the head of the current P.O.V. character. The same goes for settings.

In the end, you’ll find an enjoyable read within the pages of The Seventh Seed. It is quite action-packed and fast-paced, and therefore something of a page-turner.

Twitter: @AllisonMaruska

Website: https://allisonmaruska.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Allison-Maruska/e/B00RAS3NFE/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/allisonmaruskaauthor/

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: The Final Analysis

Hi Folks!

Well I didn’t get to the desired amount of 50k, but I did get my story on paper. The new manuscript for Book 3 sits at 105 pages for about a 25K word count. Guess I will not be putting in a request for the NaNoWriMo 2017 winner t-shirt.

How Can My Story Be Complete?nanowrimobadge2

I tend to write in a dialog heavy style and later add in other things like exposition, description, body language, and beats. Those 108 pages are probably around 75% dialog. Which of course means it will easily go to 300 pages.

Why Did I Wait Until December 13th?

I flew out to New York City on Nov. 29th and didn’t get back until Dec. 7th. Between  unpacking and catching up on many home chores, this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write a blog post.

Did I Do Any Writing While Away?

You know I brought my trusty laptop along and got in a few nights of editing Book One. Only a few chapters are left to edit. Of course, that means I’ll be sending out copies to Beta Readers quite soon.

All in all, I can say that NanoWriMo 2017 went well. How did you do on your project?

NaNoWriMo 2017: Week Three Round Up

Hi Folks! This may come as a surprise. My NaNoWriMo 2017 project is on paper. Did I achieve 50k words? No. Which naturally begs the question how I could possibly be done?

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I’ve mentioned before in other posts that my writing procedure can be somewhat awkward when compared to others. Many authors write 115K words and then delete about one-third of their first draft. My drafts tend to expand. Sometimes I don’t add any beats, body language, inner thoughts, descriptions, or appeals to the senses. There are times when I simply blast out page after page of dialog.

I usually turnout what I call draft Version 0.5, which is dialog heavy. The reason for my peculiar style is the desire to get the story on paper first, and then worry about the embellishments later. My first few chapters will have all of the standard extras and then I start drifting into dialog.

As of now, my word count is 24,394 totaling 108 pages.

Hope your NaNoWriMo project is going well.

 

NaNoWriMo 2017: How To Find Your “Comfy-Zone”

Welcome to the final post in this series before NaNoWriMo 2017 begins on November 1st. So far, I have discussed my discovery of Chris Baty and how my mindset during previous NaNoWriMo attempts was wrong. In subsequent posts I talked about how my notions concerning writing goals and time management have evolved.

NaNoWriMo 2017

Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Now I’m going to reveal how to personalize your NaNoWriMo 2017 project, get into your personal “Comfy-Zone” and enjoy your writing instead of feeling pressured.

Let’s Get Personal

I’m sure you have a laptop and/or a desktop. However, you’ve been using them for a while now. You should acquire (and I heartily recommend this one) a new thumb drive or external hard drive for saving your writing.

As you may know from experience, writing involves more tools than computers and other electronic goodies. There’s nothing like having a small notebook and a pen on your person at all times. You have a few days left, go and purchase those items. After all, you’ll take firm ownership of your writing project and make it more personal. Of course you do not have to spend a proverbial arm and a leg for these items either. Just make sure you don’t use them for grocery lists. They should have only one purpose.

I’ve Got the Time if You’ve Got the Place

You don’t need a laptop to write outside your home (although it’s nice to have one). If you have a notebook, you can write anywhere. Coffee shops are a great place to park and pump out some verbiage. Remember, you must keep your NaNoWriMo writing project special. Therefore, once you’ve picked a foreign nesting area for writing, don’t go there unless you plan to write.

The Company You Keep

Although NaNoWriMo is about your novel, the idea started from a dozen would-be authors in San Francisco. There’s an element of group camaraderie baked into the idea. Make that coffee shop time to write and hang out with other NaNoWriMo indie authors. You’ll learn how others help to refuel and recharge your creative batteries. Just bear in mind that you’re there to write or have a “write-in”, not to have some author group therapy session.

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A NaNoWriMo “write-in” at a coffee shop

If you don’t have other authors in your area, you can always use the NaNoWriMo site for finding writing buddies.

Have you used any of these “Comfy-Zone” strategies before? Going to try them now? Keep me informed.

 

 

 

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NaNoWriMo 2017: How to Find the Time

Pink Floyd, Jim Croce, and The Chambers Brothers have all composed wonderful classic rock songs about our friend and enemy: time. You can’t look at it, hold it, or examine it; time exists without form. Yet, time is incredibly valuable. For every day, and for the whole month of November, time will be prevalent in the minds of any would-be indie author racing for the finish line during NaNoWriMo 2017. So how to make the best use of the time you have for writing? I’ve summarized some of Chris Baty’s great ideas.

*In the last post I wrote about Setting a Proper Goal.*

A Study in Thirds

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It all starts with planning. In the final week of October, try logging everything you do over the course of a day. Identify everything according one of three criteria: Need, Delay, and Avoid.

Some Things Must Be Done

You shouldn’t avoid certain daily necessities during NaNoWriMo. Our days are filled with a laundry list of mandatory tasks, including laundry. And personal hygiene, feeding the cats, feeding the baby, cooking, cleaning, shopping at the supermarket…you get the idea.

These tasks should not be avoided or delayed, or things get ugly. Let’s say that author Bill stops showering and uses that time to write. Other local authors may use his lack of hygiene to their benefit. Imagine the following phone call.

Local Author John: “Hey, Bill. I hope you’re coming to the write-in tonight.”

Bill: “Wouldn’t miss it.”

John: “Good. Because I’m writing a scene that takes place in a foul-smelling bog. And Susan is up to a scene where some survivors find some rotting food.”

Bill: “I’ll bring my thesaurus.”

John: “We don’t need a thesaurus. We just need a quick whiff of you. Then you can leave.”

Sorry for the tasteless jesting, but I couldn’t resist.

Some Things Can Be Delayed

Yes, there are some tasks that should be done, but let’s face facts, putting them off for a month isn’t going to bring ruin to your life. Does the trim in the living room need a fresh coat of paint? So what? The house is not going to collapse for want of paint. Got some wood that needs to be stacked? It’s outside and drying out anyway. Does the back of the TV need to be dusted? No, it can wait. The TV will not explode from dust (although unattended Penguins on the Tele have been known to go up in smoke).

The Things to Avoid

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Study your list of daily activities. Look at the amount of time spent watching TV, commenting on humorous Facebook memes, Twitter, watching YouTube videos, or online shopping and gaming. If you’re going to implode because you’ve missed an episode of The Big Bang Theory or Once Upon A Time, use your DVR and watch it after you’ve done some honest-to-goodness writing for the day. Regard it as a reward for a job well done.

Consider Yourself Armed With New Knowledge

Come November, I hope you sit your butt down and get some serious NaNoWriMo writing done. If you don’t, you’ll never achieve your goal. Let me know if this strategy helped.

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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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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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