Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Passive voice’

Verbs That Sabotage Your Writing

Blue.Sad.Smiley.Face

“Jim and I were going to the store,” Mary said as she was talking on the phone with Susie. “Then we were stopping off to play miniature golf. I am thinking that we should have been at the theater in time to see the last movie, but Jim was not thinking the same way I was thinking. I was totally confused by him.”

Oh, my stars in heaven! What kind of writing is that?

In plain words, it’s “stupid” writing, littered with passive verbs that we call “being” verbs. If you want to murder your story before it ever gets off the ground, use these verbs frequently. Your reader will fall asleep before he gets to the second page.

For some reason, newbie writers and passive verbs go together like bread and butter. I’ve never been able to figure out why so many beginning writers, including myself years ago, have/had the uncanny habit of using these verbs so frequently. When you analyze what’s happening, you can actually see that it takes more forethought AND more words to write in the passive “being verb” voice. And the writing is just plain boring, is it not? And it’s a hard habit to break. After 20 years of writing, I still catch myself drifting into the passive voice world.

 What are Being Verbs?

So, what are the being verbs that turn your “wow” story into a “ho hum” nightmare?

When I taught junior and senior high English, every student memorized the list of being verbs. I constantly reminded the teens to be on the lookout for the little rascals that needed to be ditched and replaced with active verbs. So here’s the list:

Am, are, is, was, were, be, been, will be, shall be, has been, had been

Now, I’m not saying that you need to purge your entire manuscript of every being verb, but use them sparingly. Look for verbs that are in the passive voice and change them to active. Reword your sentences that the direct object or the object of the preposition becomes the subject. That will immediately change your sentences to “active” ones.

Let’s look at how we can change the opening paragraph to a more exciting visit with Mary:

“Jim and I went to the store,” Mary said as she talked on the phone with Susie. “Then we stopped to play miniature golf. I think we could have gotten to the theater in time to see the last movie, but Jim thinks completely different from me. He totally confused me.”

There you see how we eliminated almost all the being verbs. In the very last sentence, the object of the preposition, him, became the subject, he, in the rewrite.

Now, let’s look at three more bad examples that we’ll rewrite into good sentences:

Bad Examples of the “Passive Voice:” Sad.Smiley.Face

Last night Billy was bitten by Larry’s dog Bowser.

Did you see how Cathy was wrapping that wet towel around her arm?

The beautiful maple leaves were turning a bright red in the fall.

Smiley.Face.SmilingThe Better “Active Voice” Method:

Last night, Larry’s dog Bowser bit Billy.

Did you see how Cathy wrapped that wet towel around her arm?

The beautiful maple leaves turned a bright red in the fall.

There you have the “quickie” ins and outs of the misuse of the passive voice. Take a good look at your writings, hunt for the little “being” verbs, and send them on a hike. Your writing will spruce up like you’ve never seen before. Check out this website for a more in-depth study of the passive voice: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/7-examples-of-passive-voice/

Until then, happy “active voice” writing!

Marsha

P.S. Time to register for the 2016 Montrose Christian Writers Conference. Please check out all the workshops available from an award-winning faculty and print out the registration form at http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

Please let me know if you’d like a hard copy of the brochure. I’ll mail one to you.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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.

 

************************************

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

Read Full Post »

December 8, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Ten: Passive Verbs Instead of Active Verbs

 

This is the tenth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of various subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Passive Verbs Instead of Active Verbs,” a fiction mistake so common, even the most skilled and seasoned writers can fall into the passive voice or “being verb” trap.

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

Baker’s Dozen: (Telling instead of showing)

Am, are, is, was, were, be, been, will be, shall be…the most common list of passive verbs that are so easy to use, and abuse,  and make your manuscript move in slow motion. Passive verbs in the passive voice can sneak into any manuscript, which according to my laptop’s dictionary “indicate that the apparent subject of a verb is the person or thing undergoing, not performing, the action of the verb.”  In other words, the subject of the sentence is not doing the action. He/she, therefore, is, well, passive!  But a writer who is honing his craft will want to focus on action, action, action, and have that subject perform the action, not receive it.

Now let’s look at passive verbs in some sample sentences and then change them into active verbs, helping the sentence to come alive:

Example One

Passive Voice: On Christmas Day, Sally was given a diamond ring by her fiancé Jeff.

Active Voice: On Christmas Day, Sally received a diamond ring from her fiancé Jeff. OR

(Change the subject) On Christmas Day, Jeff gave his fiancé, Sally, a diamond ring.

Example Two –

Passive: Twice a day, Frisky the poodle is walked by his owner Sam.

Active:  Twice a day, Sam walks his poodle Frisky.  OR

Twice a day, Frisky the poodle walks with his owner Sam.

Example Three –

Passive: Marcy thought she was given too much work to do by her mother.

Active:  Marcy thought her mother gave her too much work. OR

Marcy thought she worked too hard for her mother.

See how easy you can change a slow-moving sentence (and manuscript) into a story that “flows?”

Now, let’s discuss the flagrant misuse of passive verbs when they’re NOT in the passive voice. I would say this misuse is extremely prevalent in all manuscripts when writers are not careful, including experienced ones as well as beginners.

Passive verbs when not in passive voice are “legal” and are labeled as the progressive form/indicative mood (in past, present, and future tenses and in past perfect, present perfect, and future perfect tenses.)  We need not bore you with any other details and conjugation of any verbs, which might not help you a lick. (But if you’re interested, take a peek at this website: http://www.verbix.com/webverbix/English/learn.html ) The problem with these verbs is they slow down the action and can put your readers to sleep. There shouldn’t be more than one or two of these passive verbs per page in a well-written piece.

Let’s look at some samples of passive verb overkill and how the sentences can be changed to add more action and give the manuscript some oomph. Please take note that in the following sentences, the subjects are all doing the action in every sentence, but also notice which sentences have that oomph!

Example One –

Passive Verb: Fred will be taking his final exams next week.

Active Verb:  Fred will take his final exams next week.

Example Two

Passive Verb: The sun was shining brightly.

Active Verb:  The sun shone (or shined) brightly.

Example Three

Passive Verb:  The third grade students were looking forward to Christmas vacation.

Active Verb:   The third grade students looked forward to Christmas vacation.

Example Four

Passive Verb:  George will be going on a trip to France in February.

Active Verb:   George will go on a trip to France in February.

Then last but not least, let’s look at a few sentences that use “being verbs” and are just considered lazy or bad writing (and such an easy habit to form):

Example One

Being Verb:  Sam was the tallest boy in the class and won the jumping contest.

Better:          Sam, the tallest boy in the class, won the jumping contest.

Example Two

Being Verb:  I am not excited at all about going to the dentist.

Better:           I dread going to the dentist.

Example Three

Passive Verb:  Phil will be glad when this work day ends.

Better:             Phil can’t wait for this work day to end.

Example Four

Passive Verb:  Skiing down steep slopes is only for the young at heart and the foolish.

Better:  Only the young at heart and the foolish should ski down steep slopes.

Now, do yourself a favor and open the manuscript you’re working on. Do a word search and see how many times the nasty little passive (being) verbs pop up. Rephrase your sentences and try to limit these verbs to one or two a page. I think you’ll be amazed at how tight your writing will become and how much more appealing your story will be to your readers.

Next time we’ll take a look at Mistake Number Eleven: Lack of Sensory Detail

Happy writing!

 

Read Full Post »

Verbs That Sabotage Your Writing

by Marsha Hubler

 

“Jim and I were going to the store,” Mary said as she was talking on the phone with Susie. “Then we were stopping off to play miniature golf. I am thinking that we should have been at the theater in time to see the last movie, but Jim was not thinking the same way I was thinking. I was totally confused by him.”

Oh, my stars in heaven! What kind of writing is that?

In plain words, it’s “stupid” writing, littered with passive verbs that we call “being” verbs. If you want to murder your story before it ever gets off the ground, use these verbs frequently. Your reader will fall asleep before he gets to the second page.

For some reason, newbie writers and passive verbs go together like bread and butter. I’ve never been able to figure out why so many beginning writers, including myself years ago, have/had the uncanny habit of using these verbs so frequently. When you analyze what’s happening, you can actually see that it takes more forethought AND more words to write in the passive “being verb” voice. And the writing is just plain boring, is it not?

So, what are the being verbs that turn your “wow” story into a “ho hum” nightmare?

When I taught junior and senior high English, every student memorized the list of being verbs. I constantly reminded the teens to be on the lookout for the little rascals that needed to be ditched and replaced with active verbs. So here’s the list:

Am, are, is, was, were, be, been, will be, shall be, has been, had been

Now, I’m not saying that you need to purge your entire manuscript of every being verb, but use them sparingly. Look for verbs that are in the passive voice and change them to active. Reword your sentences that the direct object or the object of the preposition becomes the subject. That will immediately change your sentences to “active” ones.

Let’s look at how we can change the opening paragraph to a more exciting visit with Mary:

“Jim and I went to the store,” Mary said as she talked on the phone with Susie. “Then we stopped to play miniature golf. I think we could have gotten to the theater in time to see the last movie, but Jim thinks completely different from me. He totally confused me.”

There you see how we eliminated almost all the being verbs. In the very last sentence, the object of the preposition, him, became the subject, he, in the rewrite.

Now, let’s look at three more bad examples that we’ll rewrite into good sentences:

Bad Examples of the “Passive Voice:”

Last night Billy was bitten by Larry’s dog Bowser.

Did you see how Cathy was wrapping that wet towel around her arm?

The beautiful maple leaves were turning a bright red in the fall.

The Better “Active Voice” Method:

Last night, Larry’s dog Bowser bit Billy.

Did you see how Cathy wrapped that wet towel around her arm?

The beautiful maple leaves turned a bright red in the fall.

There you have the ins and outs of the misuse of the passive voice. Take a good look at your writings, hunt for the little “being” verbs, and send them on a hike. Your writing will spruce up like you’ve never seen before.

Until then, happy “active voice” writing!

 

* A note from Marsha: It’s the summer! Everyone’s busy, including me. So for the next few months, I’ll post a new writers’ tip blog every other Monday. If demand warrants it, I’ll continue once a week in the fall.

Marsha

www.marshahubler.com

Register now for our October writers’ conference; check it at www.susquehannavalleywritersworkshop.wordpress.com

 

 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: