Monday, June 12, 2017

No One Likes a Boring Date

A popular post from March 2008

By Julie Wright
Have you ever been on a date where you think you might have been better off going alone? Where sure, yeah, the other person existed, but there was no sense of immediacy about the date? And then horror of horrors, your date tries to kiss you goodnight and for all the zing that there *isn't* you yawn and shrug and head into the house.
I've read books that leave me feeling the same way. on the scale of one to five, they rate a "meh." Life is short. Kisses and writing should have passion.
If you want your writing to zing, make them immediate--make them right now.
One way to do that is to get rid of your telling voice.
  • She felt the knife against her skin./The cold steel blade pressed against her skin.
  • She saw the flag waving over the soldier's lifeless body./The flag waved over the soldier's lifeless body.
  • They noticed the green ooze seeping from the chemical plant./The green ooze seeped from the chemical plant.
  • He was looking./He looked.
  • She started searching through her purse to find the mace spray./She searched through her purse to find the mace spray.
See the words highlighted in red? Get rid of them. Any time you have a verb ending in -ing, you can almost always drop the -ing and the is, was, or were (or your dead word of choice) in front of it to make it active.
I don't know why we write in passive voice. I can't tell you why that feels more comfortable to authors or why we fall into the trap of passive, but we do--a lot.
A highly illuminating activity when you finish a manuscript is to go back and run a search for the word was.
Don't panic if you have a whole bunch . . . that's what rewrites and edits are for. The first draft is to get it down; the second draft is to get it right.
Write (and kiss) with passion.

6 comments:

Karlene said...

Great post!

Rachelle said...

These are great ideas and it is weird that passive is so comfortable to us when we write--but not when we read. I'm working on fixing that in a manuscript right now!

Jennifer said...

I like the examples you gave. Sometimes, I have a terrible time trying to figure out how to fix those passive words in my ms.

I think the reason we're comfortable writing in passive voice is because that's the way we tell stories to people. You know, if you get held up at gunpoint in the store and you go to tell your husband about it, you wouldn't say, "The steel of the gun glinted in the flourescent light." You'd say, "He was waving the gun around!" Anyway, just my take on it. :)

Ray said...

I'm the attorney for Mr.
'Passive-Voice". (I've directed my client not to speak, by the way.)

Forensics prove, with certainty, that my client is not responsible for murdering these sentences.

All evidence points to the calamity's culprit being Mr. "Weak-Subject" who utilized several "Wordy-Verbal-Clauses" as his murder weapon.

Jenna Lovell said...

I wonder if I could offer some more helpful information on this subject.

I can understand your want to remove "was + ing" verbs from your writing. However, that is not actually an example of passive voice.

Passive voice is what we have when we see the recipient of an action, plus the action that was done TO them, but we have left out the doer of the action. Examples of passive voice include:
- Steve was pushed. (By whom?)
- It was crushed. (By what?)

To change passive voice to active voice, we add the subject that has performed the action:
- The bully pushed Steve.
- The elephant crushed it.

We can usually recognize passive voice by seeing "was + ed."

Finding verbs with -ing indicate a progressive tense, whether it's past progressive, present progressive, present perfect progressive, etc. The only time -ing verbs are related to passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the action rather than the source of the action. Here is one more example of passive voice:

-He was being tortured.

It can still be passive voice when the source of the action is mentioned in the sentence, if the source of the action is added with a prepositional phrase:

-He was being tortured by his in-laws.

A better way to state this sentence (by changing it to the preferred active voice) would be to say:

-His in-laws were torturing him.

So, your post is very helpful in encouraging us to use fewer progressive verbs (she stood in place of she was standing, for example), but this should not be confused with passive voice, which is something else.

This is my understanding. Please forgive me if I'm wrong :). I'm just a budding author myself, and I appreciate learning from everyone. Thanks for your post :).

Annette Lyon said...

Jenna,
You're right--passive voice is when the logical subject is the grammatical object (recipient of the action).

Here are a couple of posts that talk about passive voice:
http://writingonthewallblog.blogspot.com/2007/04/was-gone-bad.html

http://writingonthewallblog.blogspot.com/search/label/passive%2Factive

I think what Julie meant by "passive" was strong showing with specificity versus weak showing with plain old verbs.

Hope that helps--and good luck with your writing!