Techniques: Active Voice
Exercises - Active Voice
Try your hand at making these
sentences more active. See below for
1. Sandy started to sit up.
2. Wilma was leisurely looking out
the window when she started noticing
the big bird.
3. There were fifteen new members at
the prose workshop.
4. Joan was very good at reading her
5. It is my intention to thoroughly
teach how very bad passive voice
6. I could see that my constantly
repetitive lessons were starting to
And the challenge is:
Ray Gambel started
to thinly slice potatoes, and he was
constantly watching the clock. It
was 3:45. There was a phone on the
counter and he would look at it, as
though that would really make it
ring. The letter he’d gotten from
his father was very precise: he
would call on Friday afternoon at
3:30 p.m. Eastern time.
quickly wiped his hands on his
jeans. He reached into the pocket of
his new plaid flannel shirt and
there was the envelope. He took it
out of his shirt pocket and looked
at it. While he was looking at it,
he noticed there wasn’t a return
address. But the postmark was there
and it was clearly visible: “El
Paso, Texas, March 10, 1969.”
Active voice is what
puts us in the middle of the action
and allows us to feel. Passive voice
is what gives us the feeling that
someone is telling us a story that
happened once upon a time.
Ray could suddenly feel the room
widely circling around him before he
started to wake up. He was feeling
completely horrible. He hated
feeling that way. Slowly rolling to
his stomach and silently swinging
one leg off the bed, he could use
the floor as an anchor. The floor
was solid and it would help to stop
the dizziness. There was a good
chance he would be very sick.
Exciting, huh? Okay, let’s examine
why this leaves us breathless with
• Unnecessary words. Any word that
doesn’t add to your story detracts
from it. Examine your prose for
words like these: started to, began
to, proceeded to, could, would,
there was, there are, there is,
there were, seemed to, tried to.
• Inactive verbs. Watch for passive
verbs, such as was, is, were, are.
Replace them with active verbs, the
most active and descriptive words
you can think of.
• -ing words. Verbs ending with
“ing” are by nature more passive
than those ending with “ed.”
• Adverbs. Those -ly words that
precede a verb weaken it, not
strengthen it. If your verb isn’t
strong enough to make the statement
you want it to make, find a stronger
• Intensifiers. Very, really,
totally, completely, truly and so
on. Is completely empty any more
Before we look at our example above,
let’s examine each of these concepts
individually and see how they suck
the power right out of our prose.
Each of the following sentence pairs
gives a poorly written sentence,
followed by one that improves it:
• It is the governor’s plan to visit
tomorrow. The governor plans to
• John proceeded to dump sand on the
castle. John dumped sand on the
• There were eight tiny reindeer
leading Santa’s sleigh. Eight tiny
reindeer led Santa’s sleigh.
• Jack could hear laughter. Jack
• Erin was sleeping. Erin slept.
• Mike was very tired. Mike was
exhausted. (Better yet: Exhaustion
dripped through Mike’s bones like
slow pouring molasses. Okay, okay,
so I get carried away. Sorry.)
• She quickly and purposefully
walked to Jarod and sharply hit his
arm. She strode to Jarod and punched
Now, before we apply these concepts
to our example paragraph above, give
it a try yourself. But be advised,
more than one answer is possible,
and I took it a step further and
omitted complete sentences that
added no value and redesigned others
for a more effective flow.
Ready? This is what I came up with:
The room circled around Ray. He
rolled to his stomach and swung one
leg off the bed, using the floor as
an anchor. Even before he opened his
eyes, he knew he would be sick.
Half as many words, twice the power.
Learning to change ineffective
passive prose into active voice is
one of the most important things you
can do to increase the quality of
copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All
rights reserved, except for those
listed here. November be reproduced
for educational purposes (such as for
writer's workshops), as long as this
copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com
are distributed with the pages. For
use in conferences or other uses not
mentioned here, please contact Sandy
Tritt at Sandy@InspirationForWriters.com
for permission and additional
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Publishing New Writers,
November, 2006 (no. 711)
Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.
Fax (847) 428-8974.
To subscribe and/or review our archive of past newsletters, go to
Aren’t Just For How-To Books
What Are the Parts of the Book Proposal
By Patricia L. Fry
What Are the Parts of a Book Proposal?
The flip answer is, “Whatever the publisher requests.” Not every
publisher wants the same thing when it comes to a book proposal. I
cannot stress enough the importance of studying each publisher’s
Submission Guidelines. You’ll learn what kind of manuscripts that
publisher is looking for and how he wants your project presented. Find
Submission Guidelines at the publisher’s Web site or request a copy by
email or mail.
A Nonfiction Book Proposal should include:
Table of contents
Synopsis or overview
Marketing section (Who is your target audience?)
Promotional ideas (Include your platform.)
Market Analysis or comparison of competitive works.
About the author (What makes you the best person to write this book?)
Samples of illustrations, photographs, etc.
Book Proposal should include
Synopsis or overview
About the author
hopeful author said to me recently, “I’m not going to bother with a book
proposal. I’m going to send the publisher a pitch kit.” Huh? And there
is a difference between a book proposal and a pitch kit? Maybe it is the
term book proposal that turns off so many authors. Shall we start
calling it a pitch kit?
How Important is a Book Proposal, Really???
Even in today’s competitive publishing climate and even with experts and
professionals hammering away about the importance of the book proposal,
some authors still refuse to take the book proposal seriously. Many
hopeful authors just want to find a publisher through some miraculous
shortcut even if they have to pay someone to publish their books. They
care little, in the beginning, about their target audience or the market
for their book. Many of them believe that if they write it, readers will
come. Eventually, they learn that this is not a very smart way to
Some authors will reluctantly agree to write an abbreviated version of a
book proposal and they’ll ask me, "What is the most important part of a
book proposal?" They want to know, "Should I send the publisher a sample
chapter or a synopsis? How about my table of contents?"
These questions started me wondering: Do publishers consider one aspect
of the book proposal more essential than others? And I decided to launch
a survey. About a dozen publishers of various types and sizes responded
to my question: "What is the most important part of a book proposal?"
Here are the results of my informal survey.
Roughly one-quarter of the publishers said they want to know, "Who is
the target audience and where will you find them?" One publisher said,
"I need to know, what is the market for this book? Who will buy it and
how can these people be reached?" Another one advised, "Get down to
reality and think, who will buy your book?" Yet, another publisher said,
"Who is going to buy this book, and why from this author?"
Several publishers responded that the author’s platform was most
important. Here are their comments: "I want to know, how is the author
qualified to be invited on radio and TV shows to discuss his or her
book?" Another one stated, "The author’s understanding about the future
life of the book is paramount for acceptance of the proposal." And I was
told, "I want to see a marketing plan that demonstrates viability." Yet,
another publisher stated, "We need to know if an author is marketable,
especially as we publish how-to books in business and real estate."
Is the Proposal Well-Written?
Two publishers said that they want to see well-written proposals. "It
must have as much voice as the actual manuscript," states one publisher.
He explains, "Too often proposals are sloppily done. There are grammar
and usage mistakes." Another publisher pointed out that, "A concept can
be tweaked, but a great idea in the hands of an incompetent or mediocre
writer won’t fly."
What’s the Competition?
A few of the publishers surveyed want to know, first, how this book is
different. One said, "I want to see a well-structured, short, solid book
proposal that consists of how is the proposed work different than
The Cover Letter
Surprisingly, one publisher said that the cover letter is the most
important part of a book proposal. She explains, "I can often tell if
the book is unique and compelling, if the author has a solid marketing
platform, what the book is about, who the book is for and how it stands
out from the competition from a simple one-page cover letter. I often
accept or reject proposals based on the information I can gather from
the cover letter."
The Sample Chapter
And one lone publisher said that the sample chapter is the most
important part of a book proposal as far as he’s concerned.
Isn’t it odd that not one publisher even mentioned the Synopsis?
Well, what did we learn from this little survey? For me, it just drives
home the point I keep trying to make through my consultations, my
workshops and my writing, that all parts of a book proposal are equally
essential and that every hopeful author needs to write one.
Patricia Fry is a full-time
freelance writer and editorial consultant. She is the author of 24 books,
including The Right Way to Write, Publish
and Sell Your Book. www.matilijapress.com.
Read her informative blog at www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog
Bookhitch.com- a Successful Tool for
the Book Industry
In today’s society the book industry
is starting to resemble somewhat of
a social hierarchy. Meaning that
there are certain levels authors
strive for before they are
considered to be at the top of the
food chain. Herein lies the
quandary; how should authors reach
the top and what can they do to get
There are thousands of authors
feeling frustrated, ignored and at
their whit’s end when it comes to
marketing their books. It is
becoming difficult to get the “word
out” in an industry where 78% of
titles come from small/self
publishers and thousands of books
have to get sold to become a
“successful” author. As there is
only a six-week turnaround for books
in bookstores, which then are
usually sent back to the
publisher/author for refunds, the
Internet has become one alternative
solution to these frustrations.
We have already seen the rising
trend in e-books being sold via the
WWW and even movie trailers being
designed for book releases (seen on
both the Internet and television).
Authors have to work hard to
showcase their work, and work more
on marketing their books versus
writing them. Millions of
manuscripts are written each year,
and less than that actually end up
in print. Many authors, agents and
publishers share the view that
writing the book may be easiest part
of the book selling process once the
book has been bound. After this,
marketing the book becomes the
challenge. This is why there has
been a tremendous move towards
creating author websites to showcase
work, advertise books and interact
with the reader. It is an
inexpensive way to market not only
books, but also the author. The
question is how do we then market
the site with thousands of them out
there? How do we then market, not
only the books, but the author
websites too? The solution is
Although there are many sites
dedicated to searching on specific
topics, cultures, or within specific
countries. bookhitch.com has been
developed to help us delve into the
information matrix within the book
industry. It is a “mini me” site of
sorts that is comparable to many
larger search engines but of course
on a smaller, book specific, scale.
There are over 1.5 million books in
print, most of which are not
accessible in traditional bookstores
and only about 32% of the U.S.
population has entered a bookstore.
These astonishing figures indicate
that there should be a way for
individuals to access these books
all at once with the simple click of
a search button. Like other larger
search engines, bookhitch allows
readers to navigate through the vast
amount of books, and information
about books that is available on
numerous sites. There are thousands
of websites run by authors and
publishers that are not accessed by
the reader. This is not because of
lack of interest on the part of
bookish individuals, but because
they are tough to find.
bookhitch is comparable to other
search engines, not just because you
can search for a book, but it also
provides links to other websites.
This feature is seen within all
major search engines, but not on
websites focusing in on the book
industry (not until now anyway).
Individuals search for information
about a book (they can, of course,
search by genre too), get provided
with a list of results and a basic
description of each book (and in
some cases a picture of the book
cover). If a reader decides they
like the book they can click on the
link next to it to find out more
information, and buy it. They are
taken to an
whichever link is provided by the
book registering user. bookhitch.com
is a truly unique site that has been
a long time coming for the book
industry. The site is helping
readers to plot a course through and
find the numerous books available to
them, expanding their reading
horizons whilst giving authors and
publishers an opportunity to list
their books, and increase awareness
of their sites.
The website has had a successful
reaction from many authors and
publishers after only being live
since May 2006. bookhitch is helping
individuals reach the next level by
offering them the opportunity to
list an unlimited amount of books,
for free. The website is unique
because next to each description of
the book an author can place a link
to his/her own website (or publisher
etc) to buy the book. Therefore
readers can buy the book directly
from the author, cutting out the
amount of people handling the book.
The site, like many authors sites,
is also utilizing different mediums
to connect further with their target
audience of authors, publishers and
readers. One such feature is their
community book project designed to
help writers gain recognition for
their work and talent whilst giving
money to educational organizations.
In this case anyone can write the
next chapter of a book (voted in for
inclusion), the book is then
published with the authors name next
to the chapter and 100% of profits
go to non-profits. Readers get to
buy a good book, authors can
showcase their work, and money is
given to deserving foundations.
Authors can use various marketing
techniques and publicity options to
reach the top. bookhitch is simply
offering all authors, publishers and
writers a place to showcase their
hard work whilst giving readers a
chance to find all books, not just a