The Secret

For the past year and a half, WARA members have been sharing information, links and their own experiences where writing is concerned. From characters to conflict, writing jargon to punctuation, we hope we've been of some help, not only to each other, but to anyone passing through and reading our blog.

There's one question, especially from new writers, that still remains unanswered. That question is WHAT'S THE SECRET to writing and getting published. The answer is that there is no one secret. Instead, there are many small ones, each hiding inside all those topics we've been blogging about. The biggest, however, is to sit down, put your hands on your keyboard and start writing.

For the next few months, we're taking a break from sharing the bits and pieces of knowledge we've learned and will be sharing a little more about ourselves, how we view writing, and how writing affects our lives. We may go back later to refresh many of the topics we've visited, but until then, if you have a question, check the list of labels on the right side of this blog. We're also always happy to help with any question anyone might have...if we can. And if we can't, someone (Penny!!) might have the perfect link to the answer needed. :)

Thanks for visiting! And, hey, WARA members, thanks for sharing!!!

Understanding Active, Passive Voice Lori Whitley

How to recognize Active and Passive sentences.

Find the subject (the main character of the sentence)
Find the verb (the action that sentence identifies)
Examine the relationship between the subject and main verb.
~Does the subject perform the action of the main verb? (if so the sentence is active)
~Does the subject sit, while something else... named or unnamed... performs the action on it? (if so the sentence is passive)

These are the two voices that occur when we write. The choice of which to use can sometimes pose a problem. First we must understand the difference. The active voice places the agent or the do-er of the action before the verb. Example: "The cat ate the mouse." The passive voice reverses the action. Example: "The mouse was eaten by the cat." With active voice the subject is a do-er or a be-er and the verb moves the sentence along.

In almost all cases, it is better to use active voice. The sentence is more often concise than passive voice. Expressing the same idea in passive voice frequently takes 30% to 40% more words.

With active voice the subject performs the action, in passive voice the subject receives the action. Writing with active voice helps to keep your story compact and keeps the words or phrases that add length but not value to a minimum. Readers don't want to wade through a messy verbal sea to discover one or two gems of information. The heart of the sentence beats in its strong verbs, concrete nouns, and vivid description.

Sometimes passive voice is awkward and times it's vague. Passive voice always avoids the first person, when something is written in first person (I or we) it's in active voice.

Warning signs of passive voice, if there is a form of the verb, "to be" in the sentence, such as, "is/am, are, was, were, being, been." It is impossible to create the passive voice unless the author uses a "to be" verb.

Identify the subject and the main verb in the sentence. Is the subject "doing" the action? Or is it sitting passively while some outside agent "does" the verb to the subject?

Kids and Writing (Melissa Robbins)

I am the last person that should be writing about passive and active voice. See? I used 'am'. I cringe when I find “was” or “were” when editing my manuscript, but I am learning. I tried finding examples in published works, but I saw a lot of 'was' and 'were', so maybe a writer can get away with it.

Anyway, I am going to be the naughty blogger and not stay on topic, but I promise to stick with the subject of writing.

My daughter, Emma is seven and reading and writing are NOT her favorite subjects. Emma loves books and being read to, but getting her to read books to me or anyone else, is a nightmare. Emma has her own books and claims she reads them, but I don't think she actual reads them.

Emma has an unbelievable imagination and comes up with amazing stories. She made a fairy godmother the bad guy. How cool is that? Over the summer, I encouraged her to write down her stories and offered to “publish” them for her grandparents, but Emma would not do it. She hates all things writing related. As a writer, that breaks my heart.

So, readers, what do I do? Any tips on getting kids excited about reading and writing? I think kids' writing skills are deteriorating. Texting, anyone? Should I accept the fact that Emma is a storyteller and not a writer? Should I be her ghost writer? Forget writing and get her into acting classes instead?

Active vs Passive, Passive vs Active - It's Enough to Make a Writer's Head Spin (Penny Rader)

I don't know about you, but the whole active vs passive thing confused me when I was a newbie writer. Sometimes I still get it a bit mixed up. I thought I'd search the 'net and see what I could find. I hope you find these links (and the included snippets from the links) helpful.

Activate Passive Narrative – Most of the Time (Ray Rhamey)

How to turn passive to active:

Search for “to be” verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been, then try to turn them around. Passive sentences are constructed like this: object-verb-subject. Take the subject and put it at the front of the sentence, put the object at the end, and change the verb. For example:

Passive: My book is being read by an editor. (book = object, editor = subject)

Active: An editor is reading my book.

…Be wary of combining “to be” verbs with present participles. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything with a “was” is passive, but there are sentences that are not. And a present participle — a verb with an “ing” suffix — does not equal passive.

…My advice: search for forms of “to be” in your writing and see if you can activate or de-ing your sentences. If you’re writing in the past tense, “was” and “were” are the primary culprits. In the present tense, search for “is” and “are.”

Active Verbs vs Passive Verbs in Fiction (Sandra Haven)

Passive Structure:
The motor went dead. Sally was scared and her hands were shaking more than ever as she took her hands off the steering wheel. Her mind was racing at a dizzying speed so that all she felt was numb.

This should be a tense scene, but we have 5 passives with only took a possibly visual act – but not too exciting at that. By activating the verbs you create the tension we need:

Active Structure:
The motor died. Sally’s hands shook as she snatched them off the wheel in fear. Her mind raced at a dizzying speed as a cold numbness threatened to steal her breath.

See how much more intense this feels. We can see every action listed. The reader feels dizzy right along with Sally. We have verbs of actions we can see or feel in some way. Readers are suddenly in the story instead of being told about it.

Eliminating Passive Writing (Laura Backes)

I've read entire manuscripts written in passive sentences, which make the story sound like it's about to start, but never takes off. Passive writing tells rather than shows; the author circles the story without ever letting the reader become involved in the action.

Passive Voice (Amy Padgett)

Do not confuse verb tense with passive or active voice. Passive or active are determined strictly by the doer or recipient of the action. And, believe it or not, there are actually times when you should use passive voice.

This is one way that you can make active/passive voice work for you—and help you define your characters. A hero who is uncomfortable with emotions and likes to keep people at a distance, may prefer to say, “A bus hit Nancy.” It’s direct, impersonal, and active. Those may be your hero’s main traits.On the other hand, a hero who is emotionally connected to Nancy and focused on her and her tragedy, may say, “Nancy was hit by a bus this morning.” It reveals his focus on Nancy and the writer can use that to show his emotional “reference.”

Passive Voice Hides Your Characters (Jason Black)

Passive voice hides your characters from view.

It’s really that simple. Novels are about characters doing things. Passive voice shifts the focus of the writing away from the characters and onto the things they’re doing or the tools they're using.

…Passive voice is lazy writing because it lets you skip the hard work of figuring out how characters feel and how those feelings shape their actions. Active voice forces writers to do that work. It forces us to focus on the interesting characters of our stories and the fascinating relationships driving them.

What’s So Bad About Passive Voice? (Carmelo Martino)

…it’s not enough to avoid passive sentence constructions like “The milk was spilled by her.” (You can easily spot these constructions if you use the grammar checker in Microsoft Word.) We also need to avoid verbs that are “in effect” passive, such as forms of the verb “to be”: am, are, is, was, were, have been, had been, etc. Consider the following examples:

The room was crowded.
They were outside.
Her hair is beautiful.

Now notice how the movie in your mind changes if, instead of: The room was crowded.
We write: Patients filled the waiting room.
Or: The line of waiting passengers snaked outside the station entrance.

What if, instead of: They were outside.
We write: They paced on the front porch.
Or: They sat in the grass.

And if, instead of: Her hair is beautiful.
We write: Her auburn hair fell past her shoulders.
Or: Her golden hair glowed in the afternoon sun.

Of course, I’ve done more than change the verbs in these examples – I’ve added details to help readers visualize the scene. These details increase the probability that the movie playing in readers’ minds will match the one I saw while writing. And if the neuroscientists are right, readers won’t just “watch” the movie, they’ll live it.
I hope you'll share what you know and/or have learned about Active vs Passive. If you know of additional resources, I'd love to hear about them.

Consistency? What's that?

Consistency is what makes the security of life. If we sit back and think about it, all around we have evidence that security is an illusion. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Well, Yuk! Who likes that? No one. Not forever. Not even thrill seekers, those living the very edge of adrenaline, want to be in the dark about where a good meal and a great bed can be found.
But, as writers, we deal with fantasy, imagination, not reality. Is consistency important to us? Will it advance a plot? Will it carve itself into the characters of our work? Will it kill the urgency of our mental adventure?
Why not?
Because there is a deep human need for consistency even to the point of foolishness. We don't like wishy-washy thought processes--even though many of us are mired in them regularly. We don't like not knowing where our car is, that's why we have habits of always parking in the same place--if we can. We don't like our spouses coming home with wild ideas of what togetherness is all about--unless they are consistently exploring it and we're used to those explorations!
What will we do about this consistency issue? Cater to it, ya dunderheads. Oops, my pirate story is interrupting me. Did it pop you out of your need for consistency in this explanation? Well, so too do little inconsistencies in your story. Experienced writers are able to automatically edit these as they write. The rest of us may have to go back and re-read our story to edit them out.
What are we to look for?
1. Are the characters staying consistent in their physical abilities and actions?
2. Are the characters staying consistent in their mental talk? Their speech?
3. Is everyone staying consistent in their time period, their world, their relationships?
4. Are all of the secondary portions of the story staying consistent? The friends? The accouterments? The food? Weather?
Having looked for all of the above and fixed them, what do we do next? We make sure and solid that in catering to the desire for consistency, we make sure the style of our story fits the genre we're writing in? Why? Because a romance reader wants to read romance. An adventure reader wants to read adventure. A western reader wants to read westerns. What's a romance supposed to consistently have in it? A pair un-united that becomes united. Depending upon the sub-genre, the pair can be human or different species, but they must become united. That's a deal breaker. They must live happily ever after. That too is a deal breaker. There must be a sense of unity by reason of passion--the passion can be expressed or unexpressed, but it must be present in the room or the next, with the door closed or the next scene that exists only in the reader's mind--but it must be there.
The plot. What must it be to be consistent? Ah, but here is where we get to play. A plot is the sticky stuff we put our characters in. Consistency here is making sure that the type of sub-genre stays within certain unspoken guidelines. When experienced personnel in the writer's world you're trying to enter tell a writer to read within the publishing line they hope to sell to, this is where the unspoken guidelines come into play. Readers want consistency to the point they are stubbornly obsessive about reading stories like ones they've enjoyed reading before. About the only time they'll jump to another author is when their favorite author isn't keeping up with their reading speed and they need another book.
The value of consistency is a following of readers. The value of a following of readers is the warm breath of admiration. And who couldn't use more of that? The value of admiration also adds to the value of a writer to a publisher who rewards the writer with cold hard cash allowing a writer to keep themselves in shelter as they craft the next magical tale to warm a heart.
A savvy writer could then conclude that catering to the soul deep human need for security guaranteed by consistency is the very reason we exist and are encouraged to write. Since the security of consistency is so important, we should make sure the type of story we want to write is true to ourselves--we'll be doing consistent stories a looooonnnng time if our readers like what we do. The reward of the value of consistency in our writing and being true to our own stories is a long writing career. Be consistent. Be secure. Be happy.

Passive vs Active

As any grown up girl knows, there's a time for passive and a time for active. Each has its own pleasures and responsibilities.

In the world of relationships, someone has to have something being done to them--that's passive and the someone is the object of the action. Another has to be the one doing the action--that's the active.

Why do we have both active and passive if active is supposed to be so desirable? Because, as any grown up girl knows, all active makes for a very tired girl and is only half the fun.

Active makes the story accelerate and increases the pace. The pace is the speed of reading and comprehending. Passive makes the story decelerate and slows the pace. As the pace slows and the speed of the reading relaxes so does the brain. This slowdown allows a more contemplative feeling in the story. According to theory, optimum reading has a split in the percentages of each. Word, a program often used by writers, will keep track of this for you. All you have to do is turn on that option. The split in percentage is kept as part of the readability of an particular piece of writing. Readability is also used to determine the optimum reading level of a piece of writing for a particular audience. Readability statistics can be checked on a sentence, paragraph, or any size piece of writing.

How do you know if a writer has overdone the active portion of a story? Because you, as the reader, feel mentally breathless as if you've been running. Think back. Have you experienced that in your pleasure reading or your own editing? Think about slowing down. Let portions of the story be savored. Pacify our passion for passive.

Here's a bit of mixed. Think about what the writer intended the reader to feel.

A small whisper of sound came from the underbrush behind him.

She had followed him!

A line on his control snapped.

He swore a string of words containing all of the wild frustration he held. Sparkles danced before his eyes as he ran out of breath. He knew leaders weren’t supposed to harm the ones they led, but he could see how they could be driven to it. What kind of leader was he to get himself in this position?

He focused furiously on the puny scuff mark he’d made on the tree—determined to contain himself completely before he turned around. He knew she was behind him…keeping him in sight. He felt a heated ache blooming up the back of his neck and head to match the pounding in his temples. He was going to have to….

Past and Present Tense (Rox)

There are so many things we learn as we move along the path of writing.  Along with making sure our writing remains as active as possible, there's also POV, which we've covered, along with the choice of first or third person and past or present tense.  It's enough to make a new writer's head spin!

Romance novels are more likely to be written in third person past tense, with the POV in the heroine's or the heroine and hero's POV.  A third POV sometimes is seen in romantic suspense.  Past tense is very often chosen for most fiction, although not always. 

What is Past and Present tense and what's the difference?  Tense refers to the way in which verbs are used. 
  • I walk to the store to buy a dress. (present)
  • I walked to the store to buy a dress. (past)

I've almost always written in past tense, and most of what I read is past tense, also.  But lately I've been reading out of genre and have come across some present tense writing.  I recently attempted to read a YA novel that was written in first person present tense.  (As a side note, the majority of YAs are written in first person, as well as past tense.  The focus is on the teen in the story and his/her reaction to people and events going on around him/her, not on the why's or the emotions of others.)  I didn't get far into the book before I put it aside.  I suspected it was the first person present tense that put me off.

But was it?  I just finished the adult novel Summer Sisters by Judy Blume.  (I'm sure most everyone recognizes that author!)  I was well into it when I noticed that at least two different writing styles were being used.  When I'd finished, I took a closer look at how the book was written.  The prologue is written in first person present tense.  I hadn't even noticed it.  The rest of the book appears to be written in third person past tense, with short portions (a page or less) written in first person present tense of other characters.

Confused?  I never was, which shows how well written the book is.  And I've learned a few lessons.  First, I may go back and try that YA book I put down.  Second, it pays to read outside of my genre.  Third, I'm blown away by the talent of Judy Blume and so many others and am grateful to them for their wonderfully written stories.

If you're interested in reading more about verb tense and writing present and past tense, check out these links:

Precise Edit (blog post)

Purdue Owl One of my favorite writing resources for grammar and punctuation.

University of Richmond Writing Center, Writer's Web: Verbs: Past Tense? Present?

Passive to Active Voice Quiz Answers by J Vincent

I’ve paid much more attention to passive and active voice since I wrote the blog and this quiz. Hope it helps you too.

1. His hair was cut by a professional since it had been scorched in a fire.
A professional cut his hair since it had scorched in a fire.

2. The Doctor’s Blessing was written by Patricia Davids.
Patricia Davids wrote The Doctor’s Blessing. The original sentence puts more emphasis on Pat’s name and there is nothing wrong with that.

3. Last night the Wingnuts were told of their missing the playoffs by the manager.
Last night the manager told the Wingnuts of their missing the playoffs.

4. After all the arguing was over, the plan for the Boat House had been approved by the City Commission.
After all the arguing was over the City Commission approved the plan for the Boat House.

5. An F4 tornado hit nearby and destroyed several homes.
This sentence is already in the active voice.

6. After a bout of rough housing a foul was called by one of the refs.
One of the refs called a foul after a bout of rough housing.

7. The solution to the problem was quickly learned by the student, but it was also quickly forgotten by her.
The student quickly learned and then quickly forgot the solution to the problem.

8. Contestants in the game were asked about their qualifications to play.
There’s nothing wrong with the passive use in this sentence. Who asked the question is not particularly important.

9. For several days Robert was taken care of by his aunt.
His aunt took care of Robert for several days. The original version put more emphasis on Robert than it does his aunt and that’s okay.

10. The girl was shocked by the language in the movie.
The movie’s language shocked the girl. If you wish to emphasis that the girl was shocked as opposed to the effect itself or the source the passive is okay.

Passive Voice by J Vincent

This topic sent me back to the language classes I’ve taken. French but in particular the Latin which relies heavily on an understanding of grammar. At the end of the blog I’ve placed a link to a good site on Passive Voice which may clear up what I’ve muddled for you. I’m concentrating on passive voice since understanding it enables you to more easily spot passive writing and edit it, when needed, into active voice.

In the active voice the verb is directly connected to the subject. Mel threw the ball. In passive the subject doesn’t “do or be” but is acted upon . The ball was thrown by Mel.

Another way of saying this is that you take the direct object (receiver of the action in my first example) and make it the subject as in my second example.

Passive writing is using some form of the “to be” verb: is, are, was, were, have, had, have been, is being etc. alone or with other verbs We are trained not to employ the passive voice in our writing but there are legitimate uses for it. Such as when it is important to draw attention to the thing being acted on. (The pine trees in Colorado are being ravaged by the pine beetle blight.—using active voice would emphasize the pine beetles.) OR when the subject/doer is not important such as in technical or scientific writing. (I heated the coal to release carbon dioxide. — Coal is heated to release carbon dioxide.)

Pardon the garmmar jargon but only verbs that are transitive can be changed to passive and vise versa. A verb is “transitive” if it has a direct object. A direct object answers the question who? or what? about the verb. Remember Mel threw the ball. Threw what? Ball answers the question and is the direct object of threw.

Some verbs cannot have objects. The verb “have” is one of these. We can say “I have an apple. but cannot say An apple has me. Have therefore is called intransitive.

Often doing is better than reading so here’s a quiz to take. I’ll post my take on the answers with explanations where necessary tomorrow.

Rewrite the following sentences changing passive voice to active. NOTE that some of the sentences don’t have passive voice or are alright or better with the passive.

  • 1 His hair was cut by a professional since it had been scorched in a fire.

  • 2 The Doctor’s Blessing was written by Patricia Davids.

  • 3 Last night the Wingnuts were told of their missing the playoffs by the manager.

  • 4 After all the arguing was over, the plan for the Boat House had been approved by the City Commission.

  • 5 An F4 tornado hit nearby and destroyed several homes.

  • 6 After a bout of rough housing a foul was called by one of the refs.

  • 7 The solution to the problem was quickly learned by the student, but it was also quickly forgotten by her.

  • 8 Contestants in the game were asked about their qualifications to play.

  • 9 For several days Robert was taken care of by his aunt.

  • 10 The girl was shocked by the language in the movie.

The use of active voice makes your writing more forceful, invigorating and action filled. It is usually the best choice but being aware of the uses of the passive can broaden your writing skills. Remember I'll post answers tomorrow.

Writing Center Univ of NC Passive Voice site

P & A V quickie

Hey, Reese Mobley here wishing all my fellow readers and writers a happy September! Are you ready for an entire month of P & A V? I know that sounds like medical terminology or an appetizer at an overpriced restaurant or even something naughty and way more interesting than it really is. But, and this is a big but, knowing when to use Passive or Active Voice is vital to the flow of your manuscript.

One way to see how often you use a passive voice is to type the word WAS into your search/find option and click find next. How many times does the word WAS precede an action word? It’s okay to have a few, just don’t let them take over your manuscript.

Wrong: He was leaving before his wife.

Right: He left before his wife.

Wrong: She was following him to the jewelry store.

Right: She followed him to the jewelry store.

Wrong: She was watching her husband while he was buying an expensive diamond necklace.

Right: She watched her husband buy an expensive diamond necklace.

Wrong: He was planning on giving the diamond necklace to his girlfriend.

Right: The cheater planned to give the diamond necklace to his trampy girlfriend.

Wrong: He was going to ask his lovely wife for a divorce.

Right: She filed for a divorce from the jerk.

Wrong: Her lawyer was going to help her sue for custody of the necklace.

Right: She sued for divorce and custody of the diamond necklace.

Wrong: Her single, attractive lawyer was going to help her forget all about her husband.

Right: Her single, attractive lawyer helped her forget about the cheating husband.

Very Right: They sold the necklace and sailed off into the sunset.

The End.



Active vs Passive

Pat Davids here.
Yikes, I missed my blog date. I was passive, not active. My bad.

Active vs Passive is easy to understand when we are talking about people but when it refers to the written sentence the meaning can be a bit murky.

What is passive voice? In most sentences there is a subject performing an action.
An example would be: John fired the gun.
"John" is the subject of the sentence. He performs an action.

In a passive sentence, the subject is acted upon rather than being the one performing the action. An example would be: The gun was fired by John.

Happily, my Word program throws a squiggly green line under sentences such as the one above to let me know I’m being passive.

Verbs in the passive voice have two parts: some form of the verb “to be” and a past participle form of the action verb. In my example: (was fired.)

You may choose to use the passive voice in order to emphasize one thing over another. In the second example, the gun (rather than John) becomes the most important component of the sentence.

Passive voice should be used sparingly–only when it can't be avoided. In most instances the passive construction is longer, clunkier, and more vague as you can see by the example above.The use of active voice over passive voice is often a matter of word economy and simplicity. If you can say something with fewer words, you probably should.

Make your words work for you. Active verbs push hard and passive verbs tug fitfully. Using an active verb helps make each sentence more vivid and precise.

Have I made it clear as mud?

Here is another example:
Active: Pat writes a blog.
Passive: A blog was written by Pat

Try your hand at an active vs passive sentence.

News from WARA

If you haven't noticed, we've had some new bloggers join us. Please welcome Tina, Elaine, Melissa, Lori and Patty! Our blogging schedule has also changed. We'll be posting new blog posts on even days each month. The schedule as to who will be blogging when is listed on the right. We're also hoping to have a few guest bloggers as time goes on.

Thank you to everyone who has visited and read our blogs and to those who've also commented. We hope you've found something you like and maybe even learned something new.

This month, our topic will be Active vs. Passive writing. In October we'll be discussing Hooks, and in November our topic will be Turning Points. We hope you'll visit often!