by Sandy Tritt
If the first rule of writing is Show, Don't Tell, the
second should be Keep It Active. 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 boredom.
- 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.
- Avoid -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 verb.
- Avoid Intensifiers. Very, really, totally,
completely, truly and so on. Is completely empty any more empty?
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 visit tomorrow.
- John proceeded to dump sand on the castle.
John dumped sand on the castle.
- There were eight tiny
reindeer leading Santa's sleigh. Eight tiny reindeer led
- Jack could hear laughter. Jack heard
- Erin was sleeping. Erin slept.
- Mike was very tired. Mike was exhausted.
(Better yet: Exhaustion dripped through Mike's bones like slow
- She quickly and purposefully walked to Jarod
and sharply hit his arm. She strode to Jarod and
punched his arm.
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
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. If you want
additional instruction or explanation on this, study the previous
discussion on "Say it Once, Say it Right."
Learning to change ineffective passive prose into active
voice is one of the most important things you can do to increase the
quality of your fiction. Study this lesson until you can apply it to your
(c) copyright 1999 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved,
except for those listed here. May be reproduced for educational purposes
(such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the
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by Bruce L. Cook
What can fiction writers learn from
the textbook market? Plenty. And itís all about quality, believe it or
Weíre talking about quality as a
business proposition. One of Demingís original 14 points (donít worry if
you havenít heard about this.) The point that matters here is the one that
connects the business with its customers. The business evaluates its work
by feedback from its customers. Radical, huh?
What about fiction writers? Are they
in contact with their customers? Do they see quality in this way? Or are
they writing for someone else?
Take textbook publishers, for example.
Their books are purchased by students who are their legitimate customers.
But, when textbook publishers want to revise or improve the textbooks, do
they talk to the student customers? No, they talk to someone else.
Basically, they talk to the professors at their academic conferences and
meetings. Why? Because itís the professors who select the books the
students will buy. Not such a good deal for students.
OK, but fiction writers write for
their readers, you say. Do they? Do you? Think about it? (And if they
donít, itís not such a good deal for the readers, is it?)
When you send a manuscript out for
publication, what audience do you think of? The readers, or the publishers
who will publish the book for the readers. Címon, admit it. Maybe you
threw in a sex scene into an adventure story so the publisher would buy
it. Why? So you could sell the manuscript to a publisher. Or maybe
you have compromised your values in some other, less visible, way.
On the other hand, when you know the
publisher will use the manuscript, are you now writing for your past
teachers or some other peer group. In other words, are you trying to score
points with your peers?
I suggest that we have too much of
this in the publishing world. Somewhere we are losing our concern for our
readers. And, in our eagerness to please others, we may be failing at our
responsibility to become self-reliant writers too?
We need to have our own opinions and
feelings. Why write if not to express these personal treasures? We need to
avoid the easier path where we merely reflect what we expect peers to
Bruce Cook, Editor
The AuthorMe.com Group
Go Back in Time!...
our new all - immersion Life of Jesus (Part 1) from David C. Cook
III. You'll become a true believer. Visit...
is dedicated to the memory of David C. Cook III.
This Just In Ė From Paul the Apostle
By Kurt Schuller
inspired work recreating
Fire Can Burn You
by Jack Noel, Charter Member
There's no better time in a writer's life than when they discover
they've finally caught fire and are producing works worthy of showing to
the world. But it's when the newly burning literary torch eagerly
ventures into the forest of agents and publishers that his or her light is
in most danger of being stolen or extinguished.
It's generally known that
some of those who offer to pass around one's first manuscript are actually
wolves disguised as competent agents with legitimate entry to publishing
offices. What's less known is that these scamming agents are often working
for equally fraudulent publishers. This and other traps await the
The best way to protect yourself from getting burned is to become
acquainted with the various scams and frauds. To help, there are sources
you can go to which will illuminate the wolves lurking in the
underbrush. One of these is given here. I'll wager that some of what
you'll see will open your eyes wider than Little Red Riding Hood's.
Jack R. Noel
Here's the link.
Special on Critiques
First ten pages free, and, for a limited time, all additional pages at
50% off the regular rate of $2.00 per page. Just mention Publishing
New Writers Newsletter (October, 2001).
Critiques by Sandy Tritt...
Unlike most editors, I consider my role to be a mentor or a coach.
Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I explain how to correct the
problem, and I work with you to teach you how to write effective prose.
More than 50% of my business is repeat business, and I relish
establishing long-term relationships with other writers.
Treat you with respect and compassion. All criticism will be of the
"constructive" sort. My purpose is to improve your writing, not to
destroy your confidence.
Mark your manuscript, correcting grammatical and spelling errors and
suggesting alternative wording where appropriate, line-by-line.
Highlight areas that are especially well-written, so you will know
where your strengths are.
Where appropriate, offer suggestions for plot development, character
development or other areas that could be strengthened.
Return a two-to-four page written analysis of your work. This will
include evaluation of: plot, setting, characterization, dialogue,
special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks, etc.), voice, point of view
and any other areas particular to your work.
If appropriate, recommend reading or resources to strengthen your
areas of weakness.
Answer any questions you may have via email.
Provide my telephone number for a personal follow-up, if you desire.
For Sandy's success stories, see
Write Sandy at firstname.lastname@example.org
(See Sandy's article in the left column.)
Visit our sister websites...
Publishing New Writers,
October, 2001 (no.210)
Editor Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.
Fax (847) 428-8974.
If [you] can continue to
send me more useful information of any sort pertaining to writing
it would be greatly appreciated. Your March newsletter has already
been of a good deal of help to me.
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