Using the Passive Voice Properly

Verbs are the precious jewels of writers everywhere. It does not matter if the writer composes poetry, hacks away at a novel, or spills out memoirs. If verbs are employed correctly, they leave a resounding impression that lingers long after the page is turned and the book is closed.

So as writers, what are the best ways to utilize these beauties?

Today I would like to relay a few examples to help you safely avoid the passive voice. Many writers struggle with this and I write this post for myself just as much as my audience. Sometimes it takes going over a subject multiple times in order to get it right. Like for instance, writing a blog post about it.

He thoughted, no he was thinking, no thoughting? Hmm.

The difference between active and passive verbs – Verbs tell us who receives the action in a sentence. It can also help the characters stand out instead of disappearing to the side of the action. See the example below:

The foul ball was snagged by Johnny.

Johnny snagged the foul ball.

Both of these are grammatically correct, but in the first sentence the ball appears to be the subject even though we want Johnny to be the center of attention.

There are many ways to be direct when using verbs to keep the action churning. For instance, try cutting a sentence in two:

Hailea was following Kellen when a brigade on horseback galloped past.

Hailea followed Kellen. A brigade on horseback galloped past.

Passive voice can be appropriate in certain situations. For instance if your character must take a step aside to relay some of the setting:

While most farmers turned in for the evening, a few in the distance were finishing their plots.

If the passive voice is not your kryptonite, search for something that is. This way when you engage an agent and they accept your novel, you don’t have to hire a professional editor. Mastering your writing weakness could go a long way to realizing your publishing dreams.



Get Serious About Your Work, Writer

Today is Monday, the start of a new week that will be filled with success and failure. The key for the part-time writer is to find, well, time.

There are many distractions that can stop you from reaching your writing goals, or any goal for the matter. There are places where you will want and need to give time: family, friends, and work (maybe not!). There are optional activities that will require time eventually: Laundry, dusting, cleaning out the garage, power washing the house or car. And finally there are those things that suck us into the whirlpool of time wasted: television, internet, movies, and other mindless (but tremendously fun) entertainment.

Stop here. I am not trying to be a motivational speaker, but perhaps I am being one now. There are many times I have to remind myself what I am. There are days when I have to seek out a hour to write, whether that is in the morning at 5:30am or at night from 12am until 1am.

I write this not to make you or I feel guilty but to focus on the task at hand. Time is irrevocable. Once spent, there is no getting it back. While Mr. Phelps’s or Mr. Bolt’s Olympic events will be tremendously entertaining, I am positive that they did not get to where they are now by watching the latest episode of _____ every night.

So today, take television, sleep, and even reading off the mantle. Take writing, if it is your dream, and put it in its proper place.

Write sometime this week.



Are You A Writer or A Blogger?

Sit down for a moment writer. Pour your tea or coffee if you must, but let’s take some time to reflect.

Survey the last week. Think about the time you spent writing. Whether this has been a productive week for blogging or working on your book, or journaling, it does matter. But I challenge you place that time in three categories: Book, Blog, Personal.

Okay. Now, think about this question: What do you spend the most time on?

I find that a lot of times how we spend our time is who we are. But, in our mind we pretend we are something else. I know I do. If I take this survey of my writing time I see that I spend more time working on my blog and less time working on my novel. Albeit, the fun part of the novel is over. Now it is editing, writing proposal pieces, and gathering names for agencies and agents.

I write this blog post to recommit to my novel. To give it not thought, but time.  After all, what is a writer’s platform if he has nothing to share from it?

Write this weekend my friends.



The Dust Jacket of Calelleth

The Seige of Calelleth

Yesterday (see here), I promised to post the synopsis of my book as I continue to work through sections of my proposal. I am pleased to say I got a bit closer to the place I wanted to be, though there is always a (perhaps obsessive) need for the writer to refine and improve.

I have to admit I was a bit depressed by the perpetual mustering of strength  my synopsis required. I was trying so hard and focusing all of my energy on writing a synopsis that is good and gripping and inviting that I nearly tired of writing altogether.

Now, I know it is only a couple of hundred words but I am proud of them. Proud enough to hope that the thrill of finishing this portion of my proposal will be able to carry me through the next. I also hope it offers a potent enough spell to banish that depressive Bob that rears his ugly head every now and again to tell me I’m not cut out for this. You can go to seed, dear friend. This novelist no longer needs you.

Custos is a Humili – both farmer and volunteer in the Calellethian guard. Though war hasn’t happened for centuries, opportunities abound for a young man to display his talent with the sword and bow during the Harvest Celebration. However, before Custos is able to participate, he is chosen to fill a revered post that becomes available once in a generation: The Guardian, the protector of the future Sage of Calelleth.  

After Hailea is elected Sage in Waiting, but before the people of Calelleth discover they are not alone in the world, she befriends her bodyguard Custos and together they uncover a nasty secret buried beneath the city: a labyrinth of passageways leading to ancient ruins and piles of decayed bodies.

As Custos and Hailea struggle with the gravity of this discovery amid the political squabbles and backstabbings that usually encompass their daily life, an innumerable army arrives at the Calellethian gates demanding to have their captive families released to the utter bewilderment of the city leaders.

Will Custos and Hailea be able to devise a plan to appease the ferocious force in order to save Calelleth? Or will the city of Calelleth and its inept army be obliterated by the consequences of a forgotten past?

Keep Writing.



What Is Your Novel About?

I am having trouble coming up for the synopsis for my book. Funny right? I am the author and even I don’t know what my book is about. It’s not that. It’s just I am having trouble with finding out where my synopsis begins.

My story is one of suppressed histories and nasty secrets that eventually come back to haunt the characters in my book. So, I thought, I should start with the secrets. No, I don’t want to give too much. Should I start with the discovery of the secrets? No, I want that to happen during my novel and not giving it away in its explanation.

I’ve written about twenty drafts of my synopsis. All of them are terrible. I was sitting down in despair because this is a huge part of the proposal. It has to be good enough to capture the agent or reader to spurn them on and create an appetite to continue reading.

My wife eventually said why not start with a quote from my book, something a character says? Or why not start with the beginning of this novel only? I know it seems simple, and it was. Thanks to her I have a great start on description and I will finish it and post it tomorrow.

How about you? Are you having trouble with any particular portion of your proposal? If you’ve written one, what was the most difficult part?

Keep Writing.



The 47 Endings of Hemingway

It is a myth that writing comes out perfectly the first time. I don’t think I have ever heard of a writer penning a novel, posting it, and mailing or emailing it off to be printed. I discard and rework almost every part of my writing. Most of the time if I do not like a chapter I rewrite it entirely. I have several drafts of all of the chapters in my book. If I were to go as far as forty seven drafts of a single chapter, I might just have to give up. However, that is exactly what Hemingway did, on ONE novel.

A Farewell to Arms is not my favorite novel. In fact, I am not a huge Hemingway fan at all. His writing is brilliant, but his stories are far to bleak for me. Not that I despise bleakness, my novel ends quite awfully, but its hard to take at times when real life is just as dark.

I wanted to link a post to the article about the forty seven endings to remind the writer how much we have to give to finish well. How much the writer must persevere. How much the writer must refine and how much writing is not just about getting the grammar right.

Find sometime to write today.



Show Me the Story! – Writing Tips

Show don’t tell.

There are things in life that need to be chewed on for some time before the light bulb comes on and we enter the realm of understanding. Showing and not telling is one of the things that took a while for me to understand. Since the light bulb has come on, my writing has not been the same.

But what does this mean? Let me give you an example.

“Charlie was furious”.

This is a line you might come across in your own writing, or at least phrases like this. These phrases describe a scene, but fall unequivocally short of painting what is happening inside the character. This tells what has happened – Charlie was furious. This does not allow us to get to know the character to advance the story. Albeit, it might be a justifiable fury, but in the end if falls short to enrapture the reader in the tale you are in the process of spinning.

So, how do you show something without telling it? Glad you asked. Let’s revisit Charlie in the “furious” scene.

Charlie ran as fast as he could after Harry, but the older boy was much faster and was soon out of sight, cackling as he sprinted over the hill. Charlie punched his fist. He roared and raged kicking the dirt and screamed obscenities which echoed across the green glen.

Here, we are not sure what happened to evoke such anger, but the action is what pulls us in. The action of punching, screaming, kicking, and the echoing obscenities. Whatever it was, it made Charlie furious. But I didn’t say that now did I?

I hope you found this brief tip and example helpful.

I also hope you have time to enter your writer’s world this weekend.

Keep writing my friends.

Short Story: The Finest Prose Form?

I started several short stories and have yet to finish one. My excuse is that my stories are too big. The true reason, one that I hesitate to acknowledge at times, is that my writing is unrefined.

Short stories are an enigma. I cannot remember the last time I read one, but they stand as an important bulwark of the prose continuum. When the remodeling project is done at my new house (yes, I understand I might never be done remodeling!)  I plan to sit down and try to finish a few. Why? Because it is a wonderful way to improve your writing. You have to be choosey with your words. You cannot simply throw some dialogue here and some description there for as many pages as you well please.You have to limit yourself. Therein lies the challenge.

As there are more remodeling projects to get to today, I will leave you with a few thoughts from the experts. Their analogies prove closer to the mark than my feeble ones ever could.

Keep writing my friends.



The Writing Life: You Never Know What You Might Have

Since I challenged myself to write 500 words three weeks ago, I did not miss writing an entry on a single weekday. Until, alas, last Thursday morning.

I was in my daughter June’s room and we had just finished playing with some of her toy animals. I usually slap  together a blog in the wee hours each morning before departing for work. For what was the first time in a long time I wrote the entry the previous evening and brought the laptop into June’s room to do a bit of light editing before I rushed out the door. What I discovered after the night of usual broken sleep was horrifying.

It was terrible. I have no idea what creature got a hold of my laptop that night while I was sleeping (perhaps it was my cat Bandit) but they destroyed the perfect gem of a blog I composed the previous evening. I remembered nostalgically, as I sipped on my peppermint tea, that it was a brilliant work, a post worth showing the world. Then, as I looked at the sad sad piece, I saw nothing of worth and nearly deleted the entry altogether.

A Happy, But Tired, Morning

My wife Cindy helps with my editing and, because I desperately need it, I shoved the computer in her direction to get her thoughts. She scanned the page with her blue eyes then looked at me with an apologetic smile.

“What do you think?” I asked knowing the answer.

“Well”, she said twisting her mouth in dissatisfaction, “It’s bland.”

I nodded, closed the computer, and went to work.

Now, someone once told me that the first three days of the work week tend to be high traffic times for blogs. If there is anything trendy or worthwhile to post, post it then so as to get the highest hits possible. This was my reason for not posting that day. I thought, hey, what’s the point? Thursday doesn’t matter. I’ll post tomorrow.

Then, in a flash, it was Friday morning and I had written nothing. I had the draft of that blog from the previous day, and no time to write something new. So, I spiced it up a bit, put in a few anecdotes, and clicked the publish button. I think it was still loading when I raced out the door.

By the end of the day, it was my second highest traffic day for my blog, ever. So the reason I put this post on a Monday morning is to encourage you, writer, to put yourself out there this week.

If you have a novel on the shelf, dust that baby off and start sending it to agents! If you have an idea for a blog, or an article, get started on it. If you have an opportunity to do something great don’t sleep in and don’t let it go to waste. For, you may never know what you might have. It might be nothing. Or, perhaps, it might be something unexpected. Something that in return receives, not that canned rejection letter, but one that says, “We are thrilled to inform you that…”

Come on. Let this be a good week for you, writer. Get devoted to your craft.



The Hardest Part Of Writing A Novel

More and more authors are expected to do more for their books. Promote themselves, creating networks and audiences before they publish, and of course, do some significant editing.

Editing, more commonly know as revising, is my arch nemesis. It’s the nasty reality of writing, the rude awakening that says, “you know how you slaved over your novel for the last few years to produce this draft? Yeah, you aren’t even close to being done”. Then it howls in laughter.

Okay, maybe it’s not that dramatic, but you get the idea. You finish your novel thinking you’ve done your best to have commas in the right place, eliminate the passive voice, and destroy the repetitive use of words. But, as you open the word document and begin reading you will probably do what I did when I started to read my finished draft. Groan. Sigh. Then let you head slowly fall until its rested on the desk in the realization that more work is ahead.

Now maybe you thought of it, but I didn’t. Revising, I believe, is the hardest work, work that causes you to dig even deeper into your self than a novel does.

Since I know only bits about the editing process, I do know it can be more of a refining period and much more than simply tweaking grammar. Therefore I wanted to pass on this video about refining your work and tips from a very good blog WritingIsHardWork.