Passive Vs Active

My grammar nerd is showing so be warned – grammar heavy post.

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According to passive voice is one of the two voices of verbs.  A verb is in the passive voice when the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb. 

Again according to, active voice is one of the two voices of verbs.  When the verb of a sentence is in the active voice, the subject is doing the acting. 

Does that make sense?  Maybe or maybe not.  Do you know what a subject is?  So this takes me back to grammar school but the subject of the sentence is the person place, thing or idea doing something. 

Simple sentences

I went to the store – I is the subject

Samantha hit a homerun – Samantha is the subject

These two simple sentences are both in active voice.  The subject – I or Samantha – is doing the action. 

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Passive voice typically involves the BE verb.  There are so many of these and I’m not going to bore you with what the names for each are but here are the different forms – be, being, been, am, is, are, was, were.  If you see these words, the sentence is typically passive

I could give you all sorts of examples of passive voice vs active voice but I’m not a teacher and don’t want to put you to sleep.  Let me just say my go to place for explaining grammar type things is Purdue OWL  Here’s a link to one of their pages on passive voice

What I will say is when you’re writing – or more to the point editing – passive voice slows your pace down and isn’t good for certain types of scenes.  Are you going to be able to get rid of all the passive voice in your story – probably not.  But in key scenes – like fight scenes – it’s best to keep the passive voice to a minimum.

Why?  Because it’s more direct.  It adds to your writing to keep it in active voice.  The pace is faster – particularly in fight or battle scenes.  When you write in passive voice, you slow things down.

Passive voice – The sword was expertly wielded by the warrior. 

Active voice – The warrior expertly wielded her sword.  

In passive voice, you slow down and the pace is slower like this:

            The sword was expertly wielded by the warrior.  Long swipes were made by her as the enemy approached.  The enemy was killed by the warrior.

Now in active voice the pace is faster:

            The warrior expertly wielded the sword.  She made long swipes with her sword as the enemy approached.  She killed the enemy.

As the eye follows along, the reader is (hopefully) gasping with excitement as the warrior steps into battle. 

There are times for passive voice.  If you have a really fast paced scene and you need it to slow down a little, you can use passive voice to slow it down.

The more you remove the passive voice, the better the story will read, the more on edge your reader will be.

If you have a writing question you want answered or discussed, use the contact form to let me know.

Who? From Where?

Francesco Petrungaro [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

What is the point of view (POV) and why does it matter?  POV is who is telling your story.  When you’re writing your story, you need to decide which POV you will use. 

This is an area where I want to make sure I’m giving you the right information and it’s already out there so here’s my source:

1st person The main character is telling the story.  You use words like I, me, my or we if you are doing plural. 

2nd person The writer has the narrator speak to the reader.  You use words like you, your, and yours.  This is commonly used in business writing, technical writing, speeches, song lyrics, and advertising

3rd person The writer has a narrator telling the story and uses words like he, she, it, or they.  The point of view can be either omniscient where the reader knows what all the characters are doing or it can be limited to having the reader only know what is happening to one specific character. 

No one can tell you what POV to write in.  It really depends on how all knowing you want your reader to be and how intimate you want your story to be.  First person tends to be up close and personal. The author has to be creative in gathering information because you can’t give any information except what the main character actually experiences.  If the main character isn’t part of the action scene, how do you inform your reader about it and how do you incorporate other action?  You have to come up with ways.  Is the character someone people will confide in?  Can they bump into another character to have that character say – did you know, see, hear?  This takes a lot of thought and care. 

Another thing to consider is how the person talks about themselves.  There are definitely drawbacks in how the character will talk and express themselves than if you have a little more distance like with third person.  Here’s an example of first person

            He touched my thigh while moving closer.  His arm slipped around my shoulders.  I leaned in to let him know I was interested.  His body heat hit me first. I felt my stomach tighten and my nipples harden with his arms around me.  His lips brushed against my cheek. Lame but then… oh hmmm, he found that spot.  Yup that did it.  Made my toes curl and my womanhood beg.  He found the spot behind my ear which turned me to putty.  Did I want him to know this?  We had been at odds but now, if he kept kissing me, touching me, I’d forget about it all and strip him naked to have my way or let him have his way with me.

In this section you get the female’s point of view and all the thoughts rushing through her head.  Only the author can decide if first person works for you.  For the sake of full disclosure, I am not a fan of first person.  I think you get too much of the one character and not enough of the other characters.  It has its place but I’m not a fan and struggle when I read first person books.

Third person puts a little distance between the reader and the characters.  It allows the author to offer up multiple perspectives.  You can get both the male and female’s POV in the scene above or someone else’s if they happen to be watching. 

As for 2nd person, I’ve never seen this in a fictional novel.  I have seen it in self-help books, articles, and other business writing.  I’m not sure you could write a love scene in second person but it would be an interesting to see a sample if someone did it. 

One thing you should consider doing – research in the genre you want to write in.  If the genre is strictly first person, you should probably write in first person.  If it varies, you get to pick.  In reality you get to pick but you may stand out in the genre.  Whether this is good or not, depends on the quality of the story and writing.

If you have a writing question you want answered or discussed, use the contact form to let me know.

How Many Words?

You’ve got your rough draft done!  You’ve done your happy dance but freeze as you suddenly realize it’s only…. You fill in the number of words…. 40,000, 150,000, or 3,813 words long.  Is this a novel?  Is it too long?  Too short?  What length should a novel or novella or novelette or short story be? 

According to Wikipedia and other sources here’s typical word count:

  • Short story – under 7,500
  • Novelette – 7,500 to 17,499
  • Novella – 17,500 to 39,999
  • Novel – 40,000 and up

Other sources included a sub heading for flash fiction being under 1,000 (or 1,200 or 1,500). 

Writer’s Digest categorizes them as follows:

  • Short story – 1,500 to 30,000
  • Novella – 30,000 to 50,000
  • Novel – 55,000 to 300,000

(What happens if your writing is between 50K and 55K?  Apparently it falls into no novel’s land?)

IAPWE (lots of letters for International Association of Professional Writers & Editors) states “There’s no universal standard for the different classifications.”  Their suggested word counts match Wikipedia. 

Take a deep breath and relax.  It’s a rough draft, you don’t have a final word count.  Believe me when I tell you this is the start – and only the start – of what your final will look like.

Here’s an article which breaks down by genre the typical length.

Things to consider:

If you’ve written 10,000 words and wanted a novel, you’re not done.  You’ve gotten through the first act (if this were a play).  You need to ask yourself – is there more to the story?  Are their places I can expand while improving the story?  You definitely don’t want to just add filler.  Don’t ever just start adding adjectives to increase the word count.  Your blue plush sofa shouldn’t suddenly be a blue plush three seated sofa.  Empty filler loses readers and gets you bad reviews. So can you add more without it being empty filler?  Or is this it? 

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There’s nothing wrong with 10K being a damn good 10K story.  If this is it, congratulations you’ve got a rough draft for a short story.  You are ready for the next step. 

If there is more, get a snack and wade back in.  Your characters have more to whisper in your ear about their story. 

What genre are you writing in?  IAPWE suggests looking for organizations which represent your genre and see what they recommend for word length.  Scifi tends to be longer – over 100K while romance is more likely to be shorter – 50K to 100K. 

It never hurts to do research.  Research the publishers who are prominent in the genre you’re writing in.  Look for their submission guidelines.  Be aware – just because your novel is in their word count guidelines there’s no guarantee you’ll get published.  But their requirements can give you a goal to strive for. 

If you’ve written a romance that is 125K words long, you many need to cut scenes.  No you won’t actually bleed to death if you cut scenes – it will only feel like it.

Does this mean a scifi novel can’t be 60K long?  Nope.  But if you try submitting to a traditional publisher, they are likely to reject it out of hand.  If you self-publish, readers may not be willing to pay as much. These are not key at this stage but they are things to think about as you move forward.

Obviously the key is to get a good story written.  The rough draft is the starting point it is not your ending point.  You have LOTS of steps to work through before you’re done. 

If you have a writing question you want answered or discussed, use the contact form to let me know.

So You Want to Be a Writer

Aha!  You have a great idea for a book – novel or nonfiction.  You KNOW it will be a best seller.  How do you get started?

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The really short and somewhat snarky answer to this question is write!  That doesn’t really help.  You can search any bookseller to find how to books.  The reality is put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and start writing.

If you go to a writer’s group – online or in person – there will be all sorts of options people will throw at you. 

I think the most common question is are you a pantser or a plotter?  Your response like mine is probably – huh?  Plotter is a writer who plots out their books.  This could be as easy as creating a general outline or as complicated as details to the minutest level for each chapter and scene. 

A pantser – which is what I am mostly – comes from the saying – fly by the seat of your pants.  Meaning – you write as you go.  There isn’t a lot of outlining or planning.  You sit down and put your story on paper / computer.  Every time I try to outline anything, I get sidetracked.  I’ve outlined and then written.  It never ends up like the outline.  My characters don’t like to play inside the box any more than I do. 

Ultimately, only you can decide how you write best.  If you sit down to write and stare at the blank page and end up with a blank mind – maybe you need to do an outline.  If you have so many ideas but no direction, maybe an outline would help.  Only YOU can make that decision. 

This leads to the next question – are you writing in sequence?  Or are you writing scenes and putting them in order later?  I’m very much a linear writer.  When I have to add or rearrange scenes it throws me for a loop.  However, it is again up to you.

One author I know has scenes written for several books.  He gets ideas for his plot and gets the scenes down on paper.  Then he goes back and connects the dots from scene to scene. 

This is again a decision only you as the author can make.  If the opening scene intimidates you, skip to write a scene you do see in your head.  Eventually you’ll have to write the opening scene but if you aren’t finding it to start, move forward and write other scenes. 

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Here are some other things to consider:

  • Don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure, spelling, or any of the other dos and don’ts people throw out in books, blogs, and writer’s groups. 

The reality is you are creating a rough draft.  The only thing you need to worry about is getting the story written.  Get words on the page and move on.  Rough drafts suck and are usually not readable.

  • Don’t worry about word counts.  Some authors set goals of writing 500 words a day or 1000 / 100 / 300 / 279 or some other random number. 

If that works for them – fabulous.  If it work for you – fabulous.  If it doesn’t work, you are creating a barrier between you and the story.  In reality you likely are working a day job.  If you set a goal of 1000 words a day and have a crappy day, you aren’t going to meet that goal.  Then the next day you’re behind so you feel like you have to write both day’s goals.  It can be counterproductive.  For me, I write when I feel it.  I’ve written a novel in four days.  It was ROUGH, needed more scenes and a lot of refining and editing but the general book was done in four days.  Novels start around 45 – 50K depending on the genre.  If I divide those 50K by 4 days I wrote something like 12.5K a day.  Possible – I remember being really tired and really driven by the story. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are times it’s taken me years to write a novel.  I’d write a little 100 word scene and be stumped.  I put it away and come back to it when the next scene came to me.  I’m not a goal oriented person.  If you are, set realistic goals and be flexible.  Otherwise you end up with barriers to writing. 

  • Tense / POV – some genres are typically written in a particular tense / POV.  For example contemporary paranormal is typically written in first person present tense.  If you’re going to market your book in this genre, typically you should write the way the readers expect the genre to be written.

Having said this, if you hate that – write it your way.  I am not a big fan of first person and almost always write in third person.  I’ve not written a contemporary paranormal novel.  If I decide to write in that genre, I’d have to consider writing in a POV I’m not fond of and a tense I don’t normally write in. 

You’re the author, the creator of the whole world in the book.  Tell your story your way.  The rest can be figured in editing.  The most important thing is to write.  It doesn’t matter if you set up a work space with a lucky bobble head (creepy but okay) or use your phone to do the rough draft (talk to text can be really helpful) or write it out long hand in a spiral or pad of paper.  Find your groove, write, write, write, write, write…. Did I mention you should WRITE?  How you do it is all up to you. 

Write your words, your way and tell a good story.  Everything else can be worked out in editing.

Reading to be a Better Writer

Love scenes can either be done wonderfully or horribly with a lot of mediocre in between.  I read The Twilight Before Christmas by Christina Feehan last night and was enthralled with the book.  I could not put the book down.  Feehan’s love scenes were sensual, enthralling, and steamy. 

She included words I would not have thought would be good in a love scene but they completely work in hers.  I’ll be studying her scenes.  The entire book kept me enthralled for the whole night.  Her pacing was non-stop, she went from one crisis to another without giving the reader a chance to catch their breath – in the best possible way.  Her women are strong, feminine, and sexy.  Her men are strong, respectful, loving and sexy.  It is the perfect combination. 

As a reader, I enjoyed reading the book and can’t wait to start the next one in the series.  As a writer, her writing excites me and I am going to study her techniques. 

One of the things I heard in most of my classes was to find an author who writes in the genre you want to write in and study their work.  Mostly they were talking about classical writers like Mark Twain and other people most non-writers don’t like to read.  In rediscovering my love of the reading, I’m finding myself inspired by the stories but even more by the techniques I’m finding in the books that keep me riveted. 

Even though I’m enthralled in the story, in the back of my mind my writer persona is taking notes.  I find myself occasionally saying – oohh I like how this worked or I like the way this was said or I like how this phrase was turned.  In describing the heat of the moment, instead of saying something spread like wild fire the author used a different term (can’t think of it right now off the top of my head) and it worked so much better.  It took away the cliche of the phrase we all know but got the same results of the cliched phrase.

My first novel is a culmination of ten years of writing, getting a story down on and developing characters, plot, and technique.  As I read it now, I see some things I have changed in how I write; I also see some really good techniques. 

I’ve had writers tell me how to write.  I take in their advise but know for me in the rough draft I can’t do it that way (at least not right now).  I can incorporate some of the ideas in my editing process.  I know I’m evolving as a writer and in another ten years I’ll probably look at my first books and see things I’d do differently.  It is sort of like hair styles of old pictures – we look back and sometimes think – what were we thinking, and other times – that was good I should do it again.