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July 13, 2015

Passive vs. Active Verbs

“Am, are, is, was, were, be, been!”

I don’t know how many times throughout my teaching career I had kids in my English classes recite those “BEING VERBS” so they would know NOT to use them in their writing assignments so often. I dare say thousands of times. So, the list has been ingrained in my thick brain as much as I hoped it was ingrained in my students’ mushy minds.

But, you know, after all the years I’ve taught English and all the years I’ve been writing for publication, I still catch myself overusing these words when I’m expounding. Using these words seems to come as natural as breathing, not only for beginning writers but for seasoned vets as well.

These nasty little three-and-four-letter words are like pesky little gnats in your eyes and the foundation to what we call the “passive voice,” a voice you should try to avoid 90% of the time. Why?

The passive voice makes your writing dull, lifeless, and uninteresting. These little nasties take the punch right out of any really good story you’re trying to write.

Let’s look at a few examples of passive voice verbs vs. active voice:

Passive: Joe was walking his dog Barney last night. (Ho hum.)

Active: Joe walked his dog Barney last night.

 

Passive: Martha was listening to her brother’s phone conversation.

Active: Martha listened to her brother’s phone conversation.

 

Passive: Trigger, a handsome Palomino, was ridden by Roy Rogers.

Active: Roy Rogers rode Trigger, a handsome Palomino.

 

Passive: Sally’s baby boy is loving his new toy.

Active: Sally’s baby boy loves his new toy.

 

Passive: The Jones’ kids have been going to camp every summer for years.

Active: The Jones’ kids have gone to camp every summer for years.

So, in a nutshell, there you have a quick survey of one aspect of the passive versus active voice. Take the time to evaluate some of your latest writings. Use a highlighter and see how many times these little nasties pop up. You’ll probably be surprised.

Just working on this one facet of your writing will improve your manuscripts far beyond what you can imagine. Work on sentence structure. Throw out the little nasties and make stronger sentences with more of a punch. Your readers will be glad you did, and they’ll be eager to turn the page in your book to see what’s coming next.

 

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IT’S NOT TOO LATE  TO REGISTER FOR THE

MONTROSE CHRISTIAN WRITERS CONFERENCE!

Dryer.Hall.Ft.Reg.Sign

July 19th-24th

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors

Suellen.Brenda.Carol.W.Camp

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July 6, 2015

You Should Tell, Not Show?

In my last blog, I focused on “showing,” not “telling” in narration, and I gave you an example of lousy narration versus that which will catch the eye of the beholder.

Let’s continue with the premise that good narration can be “telling,” not “showing” if handled properly. If you do need to “expound” about details that you simply can’t include in dialogue, then I suggest following the next few steps to good “telling:”

  1. “Paint” a picture with your words that includes as many of the senses as you can. (Remember my waterfall scene in the last blog?) Think of your reader as one of the characters so he/she experiences the same thing your characters are experiencing.
  2. If you are going to open your book (or each chapter, for that matter) with narration and not dialogue, hook your reader. That all important first paragraph of your novel will either inspire your reader to go on or cause him to yawn and put your book down. Check the opening paragraphs of best-selling authors and analyze how they grab your attention in that first paragraph.
  3. Even though you’re probably writing your novel in one predominant character’s voice, good narration often establishes an omniscient voice, one that is authoritative and sets the general mood of the novel. The earlier you accomplish this, the better. (Again, study the beginning chapters of some great novels. What voice does the writer present in the narration?)
  4. Do not expound for pages and pages of narration. That’s a sure-way to lose your reader. Condense and summarize if nothing exciting is happening to your character. Remember our literature AND our readers today in our fast-moving society are both a far cry from the novels or fans of that style or writing from decades ago.
  5. Dialogue is not always the way to go with back story. If details are not that important in a character’s past life, you can work it in to the manuscript so that your character is reflecting into the past. Don’t bore your reader with unimportant details!
  6. Shorten your narration to a few sentences if you’re describing secondary characters. You can’t always show every single action, dialogue, or mood of all your characters. It isn’t necessary. There are times when you will want to economize your method and just plain “tell” the reader what happened. But as a skillful storyTELLER, you can refine your writing style and keep your reader on the edge of his seat, even if you are “telling,” not “showing.”

So there you have it. Telling is not always bad. It depends entirely on the skill you incorporate to hook that reader and keep his attention through your spurts of narration.

 

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TIME TO REGISTER FOR THE

MONTROSE CHRISTIAN WRITERS CONFERENCE!

Jim.Director

Becky and Jim Fahringer

(Directors of the Montrose Bible Conference Center)

July 19th-24th

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Paid Professional Critiques with Award-Winning Authors and Editors

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors

EVA.MARIE.EVERSON.Photo

Award-winning Eva Marie Everson

will present Foundations of Fiction through Film

(6 sessions)

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June 22, 2015

Make Those Characters Jump Off the Page

Walk.w.Joan.and.Faith.at.Montrose

I recently read the first few dozen pages of a manuscript for a YA novel, which the author had decided to submit to a publishing company for consideration. Unfortunately, it didn’t take but about five pages before I realized the writing was “flat.” One of the characteristics of “flatness” is the lack of character development. The author failed to include hardly any physical features or any sense of the emotional or mental state, (i.e. their likes and dislikes, virtues and vices, qualities that make them human, not cardboard) of all the characters except the main protagonist, and those descriptions were scanty. I felt the author needed to do a study on character development, start his manuscript over again, and make his characters come alive.

So, how do you make your characters come alive in that next great American novel you’re writing? Let’s look at ten characteristics that will make those characters jump off that page:

  1. Make each character uniquely different with different names. A few years ago, a friend critiqued the first four chapters of the Amish fiction I wrote, and she caught a big mistake. I had two characters named “Joe.” Yikes!
  2. Give each character his own distinctive voice. After a few chapters, your reader should be able to tell who’s speaking without even looking at the tag.
  3. Have your characters working jobs or going to school or doing “something” relevant to the plot. If you’re writing a murder mystery, your main character probably shouldn’t be babysitting puppies for a living.
  4. When you name your characters, give them names that fit their personality, body type, nationality, etc. Now picture this: your character is a 220-pound Italian hunk, built like Superman and he’s a policeman, then you give him the name “Wilbur.”
  5. If you’re writing fiction with different viewpoints, only get inside the head of your main characters…and only one P.O.V. per scene. Over the years, I’ve read books by one of the leading writers of Amish fiction in the country, but I had much trouble following her because of the multiple P.O.V.s. In one book, there were 16 P.O.V.s. I was so confused, I had to start over and write down everyone’s name, who they were, and how important they were to the story. After about 75 pages, I gave up on the book. This author has a big name, but because I don’t care to try to unscramble all those P.O.V.s, she’s not one of my favorites.
  6. Build your characters a little at a time as you write the novel. The plot should “thicken” at the same time you start to describe your characters more vividly and get them totally involved in the action.
  7. Even though you’re writing fiction, make your characters authentic. Interview policeman, veterinarians, computer geeks, or whomever so you have a thorough understanding of their job descriptions. In book seven of my Keystone Stables horse series, I developed a scene with a barn fire. Before doing so, I went to the local firemen and interviewed them to get the details of how the fire company would handle a barn fire in a countryside setting. I asked what kind of equipment they needed, what certain names of the trucks were, and how they’d tackle the task. The account in my book is accurate and detailed, even though the book is fiction.
  8. Start each characters’ names with different letters. How confusing would this be? Sam told Susie that Stella was going to be with Savannah the night of the social. Sheesh! Who’s who in that maze of words?
  9. For at least your main characters, give them some depth by including some history about them. They didn’t just hatch from eggs the day you started writing about them. (Or did they?) Build character sketches for each of them. I know some writers who give their characters full families, birthdays, college degrees, bank accounts in Sweden, and so on to “flesh them out” all before the book manuscript is even started! Details DO matter when you’re writing about people. Write so that your reader thinks he/she can almost hear your characters breathe.
  10. Have your characters less than perfect. Develop flaws in their appearances or personalities, which they must overcome or accept as the plot unfolds. No one likes to read about a character, who seems too good to be true. In the long run, that character will be too good to be true, and he/she will turn your reader right off.

So there you have it. Flesh out your characters, and you’ll have a best-seller on your hands and on the shelves of book stores across the land.

 

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TIME TO REGISTER FOR THE

MONTROSE CHRISTIAN WRITERS CONFERENCE!

3.Conferees.in.D.Room

Don’t miss meeting new writer friends,

gleaning from the experts,

and enjoying the special events!

July 19th-24th

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors

Read Full Post »

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