December, 2010

Funny Friday: Best Idea Ever

>I found this a few months ago when someone (maybe Jen? I can’t remember) tweeted about it and now every time I hear the original, I start singing the lyrics to this one.  People look at me a little odd, but whatever.  I’m a writer.  I do strange things.  😀

And to give Jen her due you can find her here.  

And now:

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Tip Thursday: Passive vs Active Voice

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On another of my posts, I’ve had some social commentary from a reader who corrected me on something I said to another commenter about passive vs active voice.  Ultimately she was correct, what I’d originally said was active was, in fact, not active voice. However, I disagreed with the example she used to demonstrate her point, as it didn’t use the original examples and confused other readers who emailed me to ask what in the heck she was talking about.  🙂  So I decided to do a post on passive vs active voice. 

In my search for references, I went to my trusty grammar divas who already covered this topic.  Since they said it better than I could, I’m just going to copy and paste it below, with a few more links to places that have posted on this.

Passive voice is one of the most difficult grammar issues fiction writers struggle with every day. It’s the redheaded stepchild because it’s awkward, wordy, and generally vague. Active voice tends to be crisp and direct. Ergo, to ensure your readers understand what you’re trying to say and enjoy doing so, active voice is your best bet.

You’d think knowing what voice to use would be easy because there are only two: active and passive. However, many a writer has ground teeth, pulled hair, and/or stomped feet trying to rewrite a sentence into active voice that his or her editor or critique partner has marked as “passive”.

The voice of a verb shows the strength of the subject of the sentence. Not physical strength, perception strength. Editors feel active voice is more direct, dynamic, and—literally and figuratively—active because attention is directed at the “doer” of the action. Passive is, well, too passive for most commercial fiction.

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence takes the action of the verb, i.e., is the actual “doer” of the action. Let’s use a familiar joke to explain.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

The chicken is the subject of the sentence, i.e., the doer of the action. This is active voice.

Why was the road crossed by the chicken?

Here, the chicken is the doer of the action, but not the subject of the sentence. The subject of the sentence is the road and is receiving the action. This is passive voice.
Now, let’s illustrate the difference using sentences a reader might find in commercial fiction.

Active voice is when the subject of the sentence takes the action of the verb, i.e., is the actual “doer” of the action.

John threw the ball across the road.
The spider bit Samuel under his swimsuit.

Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is acted upon.

The ball was thrown by John across the road.
Samuel was bitten under his swimsuit by the spider.

Passive voice is not any use of to be (in any form). The key to identification is:

Must Have #1: form of “to be” + past participle = passive voice. (Does past participle sound like the latest energy drink? Think a verb form ending in –ed that expresses completed action. Of course, there are a few exceptions like paid, thrown, bitten, and driven.)

Must Have #2: A receiver of the action (a direct object) that is the subject of the sentence.

May Have #3: The doer of the action is in a prepositional phrase that begins with by or sometimes for. Why may have?

A body was found last night. = passive voice

Not all passive voice sentences contain by or for.

The prince’s generosity surprised Summer. = active voice
Summer was surprised by the prince’s generosity. = passive voice
Adrianne’s coming-out party was a blast. = active voice
Adrianne’s coming-out party was held by her parents. = passive voice

Tired of editors, contest judges, and/or critique partners circling every was and marking it passive? What they forget is that only transitive verbs (those taking objects) have a passive voice form.

John threw the ball across the road. = active voice
The ball was thrown by John across the road. = passive voice

However, linking verbs (not helping forms) only suggest state of being and can’t have a passive voice form—though some people interpret a state of being as a passive form. Well, maybe, but it’s not a grammatical VOICE form.

John was a teacher. = active voice
The teacher was John. = active voice

Confused? Remember, a linking verb does not show action. It connects a word or words in the predicate (the verb and any objects, modifiers, or complements associated with the verb) to the subject in the sentence. Forms of to be (am, are, is, was, were) are common linking verbs. Others include grow, look, became, appear, look, taste, and remain. Because linking verbs don’t show action, they can’t be active or passive.

Why is avoiding passive voice so important? Passive voice is a grammar issue the fiction writing community—especially within the romance genre—takes seriously. Passive voice is not grammatically wrong, but most editors feel active voice is more direct, dynamic, and—literally and figuratively—active because attention is directed at the doer of the action. They see passive voice as passive writing bleeding onto the page. They see an author unwilling to grab a hold of their prose and commit to producing strong, aggressive writing.

Passive voice can also drive a reader insane with its contorted, artificial structure. And we don’t want to drive our readers crazy, do we?

How to Fix Passive Voice
It’s easy. Simply switch the sentence order to make the doer and the subject one.

The tablecloths were discarded after the party by Cheri.

Remember, in passive voice the subject of the sentence receives the action, not the actual “doer” of the action. Here, the subject of the sentence—the tablecloths—receives the action—were discarded. Who’s the actual “doer” of the action? Cheri.

Cheri discarded the tablecloths after the party.
OR
After the party, Cheri discarded the tablecloths.

That’s better.

Jackson was wanted by every woman in the bar.

Subject of the sentence? Jackson. What’s the action? Wanted. Actual “doer” of the action?

Every woman in the bar. Ready? Switch!

Every woman in the bar wanted Jackson.

That’s better.

Is Passive Voice Ever Okie-Dokie?

Sometimes the object of the action is the important thing, not the doer. Here, passive voice is the better way to go.

That maniac turned Mysia’s car upside down on Tuesday. = active voice
On Tuesday, Mysia’s car was turned upside down by that maniac. = passive voice

Sometimes you have a sentence with two clauses. Here, passive voice creates a shift in subject that makes the sentence flow.

As the Laird surveyed his lands, his enemies plotted treachery. = active voice
As the Laird surveyed his lands, treachery was plotted by his enemies. = passive voice

Sometimes the doer of the action is unknown and therefore we must use passive or rewrite the sentence.

Burglars stole the jewels last night. = active voice
The jewels were stolen last night. = passive voice

Sometimes the detachment between the subject of the sentence and the doer of the action works for stronger prose.

“He’s round sunburned face was marked by a certain watchful innocence.” Reflections in a Golden Eye, Carson McCullers.

Here, the emphasis is on innocence. Rewriting the sentence into active voice would ruin the author’s intent.

“You can be defeated and disoriented by all these feelings.” Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott.

Here, the emphasis is on you. A rewrite would kill Anne’s masterpiece.

“The body lay on the back, the head toward the door. A candlestick was yet clutched in the right hand.” Wilderness, Robert Penn Warren.

The last sentence, in passive voice, delivers a dramatic punch.

Jane was taken to the cleaners.

Idiomatic phrases allow us some liberties. Not many editors would poo-poo a sentence like this one.

What About Passive Voice in Dialogue?

That’s between you and your character. If active voice suits the speaking style you’ve created for a character, go active voice. If you need to show a character’s indecision, hesitation, or discomfort, go with passive voice. Just remember to distinguish character indecision or hesitation from author indecision or hesitation.

Final Tips on Passive Voice

1) Write the way you speak and your writing will be more lively, powerful, and engaging than writing the way you think writing should sound.

2) Still not sure whether to go passive voice or active voice?

3) Try both and decide what sounds smoother.

4)Still, still not sure? When in doubt, go active voice.

5) Don’t worry about passive voice until you’re in the editing stage of your manuscript!

Remember, write first; edit later.

List of other sites that talk about passive vs active voice.

Ask an editor
Words fail me
Grammar Divas (worksheet)
The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Mr. Edit
Patricia Wrede
Fiction Writers Mentor
Online English Class (worksheets)

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Writer’s Wednesday: Book Review Paranormalcy

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Paranormalacy by Kiersten White
Publisher: Harper Teen (August 31, 2010)
Paperback: 352 pages
Reading Level: Young Adult
Rating: 4 of 5 feathers
Source: Trade

Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.
But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.


So much for normal.



     REVIEW: This is another book that I picked up mainly because of the cover (it’s so PRETTY!), but also because of a the hoopla surrounding it. I first learned of it during my own agent hunt last year when I was researching her agent, Michelle Wolfson. And Kiersten did a blog post on how her first book didn’t sell. After that I started stalking following her. ☺

     The story is a little slower than I would have liked, but I did enjoy it. And I have to admit the romance wasn’t at all what I had expected (from other reviews I’d read), but there is some there. Other than those things I didn’t really have any expectations for it. I was hoping it would keep me entertained and it did.

     It starts off with Evie, who carries a pink tazer she calls tazie (isn’t that cute?!), being “attacked” by a vampire. Pretty typical of the recent paranormal stories, but then Evie completely kicks butt and turns the tables on him so she can put some kind of ankle bracelet that acts like those police trackers, but instead of tracking them, it monitors their “vital signs” and if they break the law they are “neutered,” which, has a more literal meaning later in the book, but in the beginning it just means depending on the creature, they are killed.

     We then follow Evie as she’s transported back to IPCA, where she works because of her ability to see through glamours and see the paranormal creatures for what they are, by a faerie, Rath, who Evie has a strange romantic history with and plays a fairly large part in the story as he puts Evie in an unwilling love triangle. We also meet her best friend, who happens to be a mermaid who lives in a tank in IPCA and talks to Evie through a computer and eye movements.

     Then we meet the hero, a shapeshifter named Lend, who borrows the “skin” of several of IPCA’s staff to break in. Evie puts a stop to it and attaches the ankle tracker. She develops a friendship, then later a romantic involvement with him and learns a prophecy about herself. Throughout the rest of the book Evie’s internal conflict is between her duties and the want and need to be a normal teenage girl where she goes to high school and has a locker—which she’s apparently quite fond of. ☺ ( Having once been a normal teenage girl, I don’t see why, but I guess if I remember wanting to ride the bus to school when I was younger and I suppose it’s about the same feeling. :D)

     I have to admit, that the major appeal of this book for me was its uniqueness. It wasn’t just like every other paranormal out there and kept me reading because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I highly suggest it if you’re looking for a good read that’s different than what you’re expecting.

     CHARACTERS: Evie is a strong character, but is made stronger by her weaknesses. Her longing to be normal is something that every person who remembers high school can relate to. Lend is sweet and while he pretends to be strong around the adults, through Evie you can glimpse some of that naïveté that makes him the perfect hero and perfect for Evie. Reth on the other hand, even though I’m seeing him through Evie is not a character I liked. Although, I’m pretty sure this was Ms. White’s intention. He was selfish, uncaring, and cruel. While I could see sparks of why people may like him, I just couldn’t get past all his negatives to like him.

     COVER: I think it’s perfect for this book. With the beautiful pink dress on the kick-butt beautiful girl and, the storm brewing in the background, sets the mood of the story wonderfully.

     If you’re looking for a unique story, that’ll keep you reading and has a hint of romance that’s perfect for almost all ages, then this is the perfect book for you.

Find Kiersten White
Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Purchase Paranormalcy
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / The Book Depository

Paranormalcy book trailer

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Music Monday: Holiday Tunes!

>I chose this song since this is what I’ve felt like lately. I didn’t even post anything last week, because I just didn’t think I could write a post without ranting.

Everywhere I go people are just so rude!  I couldn’t believe it last week when I was completely treated like crap at the post office.  And I was told, “You wouldn’t want to work at the post office during the Holidays.  Give the lady a break,” by a guy a few people behind me, when the post office worker completely ignored me and called the person behind me in line and I called her out on it.  I told him that just because it was the holidays didn’t mean you STOP giving excellent customer service.  To my surprise, I was the bad guy because I didn’t take the worker’s crap!  

Even putting lights up was a Herculean task that required entirely TOO much time and money.  First 3 strands of lights were completely dead. And I had to buy all new ones.  And, of course, the strings I bought last year are longer than the strings I bought this year, so I had to make ANOTHER trip to get 2 MORE strings.  Then the Christmas tree I had for 11 years finally gave up the ghost and I had to buy a new one, which meant ANOTHER trip to the store because I bought a bigger tree and needed MORE lights, ornaments, and garland. 

On top of all this, my daughter decided that since mommy was stressed out already, then would be the PERFECT time to act like a hooligan!  So…now it’s a new week, that started out with a BANG on Saturday with DH’s birthday.  We went out to his friend’s house and spent about 4 hours shooting targets for his birthday.  Then Sunday we went to Kobe’s Japanese Steakhouse for his boss’s birthday and had so much fun.  So I’m hoping that this week will be better than last and this song is to symbolize the OFFICIAL  ( 😉 ) start of the holidays. 

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Music Monday-Katy Perry

>I’m posting this because I think it has a great message.  And, in light of all the recent bullying crap that’s going on all around, I thought we all needed a little reminder.  Plus it’s a great song!

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