Stay Active!

Active vs. PassiveI know I’m suppose to write in the active voice, but why? What is the difference between active voice and passive voice and why does it matter?

In a sentence written in the active voice, the subject of  the sentence performs the action. In a sentence written in the passive voice the subject receives the action.

Jan loves Danny. Jan is the subject and she is performing the action of loving Danny.

Jan is loved by Danny. Jan is the subject, but she’s doing nothing. She is the recipient of Danny’s love.

Sentences in active voice are  more concise than those in passive voice, because fewer words are required to express action in active voice than in passive voice, making the sentence stronger.

Many a Tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is or could be heard.

There was a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground. Vs Dead leaves covered the ground.

At dawn, the crowing of a rooster could be heard. Vs The cock’s crow came with dawn.

After reading the previous sentences, what do you think? Active or Passive? I would definitely go with active 🙂

This is yet another area I am working on. And while the rule is to go with the active voice, it doesn’t mean you should entirely discard the passive voice. Sometimes it is necessary.

-Jan R

 

Stay Active!

Pacing-Fast Or Slow?

controllingthepaceinyournovelPeople who love to read but have never written books are cognizant of the pacing. Pacing sets the tempo of your story. Is it a fast read or did it seem to drag on for days? Hopefully you’ve found a balance between the two and they perform like a fine tuned orchestra.

I have read many good books that I skipped portions of, because I was tired of reading about the duchess’s frilly dress or  inner hull of a slave ship. I’m glad the authors did their homework and provided historical information, but sometimes it can be a bit much and totally bog down your story. I have read other books that were nonstop action that left me wanting; they were missing the details that made the story real and the characters endearing.

So how do you control the pacing of your story since once you start writing it seems to take on a life of it’s own? Be cognizant of the tempo and your audience. You have to strike a balance between the amount of information in the pages you are given and the patience of your reader.

There are three main attributes that effect the pace of your novel.

  1. The number of pages/words in the novel vs. the time period covered – Long books that depict a short period of time are going to move at a slower pace.  you’re going to be providing a lot of detail and back story to fill up all those pages. Short stories depicting long periods of time are going to move at a faster pace. In order to cover everything you have to cover, you’re not going to have time to stop and smell the roses. There’s just too much happening and not enough pages/words to expound-talk about making every word count 🙂
  2. The density of the narrative – The length of the story versus the number of twists and characters within. If you have a simple story with maybe one subplot and a handful of characters, you should be able to move along at a fairly steady pace. You start going all Lord Of The Rings on that book with numerous subplots and characters that are a product of your imagination-you’re going to have to slow down and figure out a way to keep it moving forward without getting too bogged down in the details.
  3. Scenes vs. Exposition                                                                                                          Scenes are the important events that move the story forward.  They are the action and dialogue that occur during the course of the story.                                                    Exposition is the back story or descriptive information that stands outside of the story and slows things down.

I love this chart. It provides some great examples of ways to control the pace of your novel and is very user friendly:-) Some more things to think about when you are addressing pacing.

controlling-the-pace-of-a-story

 

I hope this helped.

-Jan R

 

Pacing-Fast Or Slow?

I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

aid174983-v4-728px-Stop-Saying-the-Word-_Like_-Step-4-Version-2On more than one occasion I have declared my love affair with the word ‘had’. When you use a word so many times it jumps off the page, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if the word is used correctly or not. You need to find another way to write the sentence without using ‘the word’. In my case that word is ‘had’.

What’s wrong with using the word ‘had’ over and over, besides making it an awkward read?

  • If you are using ‘had’ a lot, odds are you have a lot of backstory/info dump, because it specifically details things that happened before the current action. In some circumstances, that can seem dull, or like the focus is in the wrong place. Why spend so much time on something that’s not happening right now?
  • Using ‘had’ too much can also indicate you are telling vs. showing.
  • ‘Had’ is also rather formal. People rarely say ‘he had put on weight’- you say ‘he’d put on a bit of weight’ or ‘he was looking fatter’ something to that effect.
  • If it’s overused to the point that it becomes noticeable to the reader. It is bad.

For this blog, I’m focusing on ‘had’ because it’s a problem word for me. Most of us have them. They could be words like but, although, because, however, that, and if you’re writing dialogue–so(another one of my favorites that I know to look out for 🙂

To a certain extent, this is a matter of style. Plenty of writers have these little tics. You may find a turn of phrase that you fall in love with, or it may be a word that carries over from the way you speak. As I stated above with ‘had’, only if a word or phrase is overused to the point that it is noticeable to the reader, does it become a bad thing.

Noticing that you use a particular word frequently, is the first step to improving your writing. If you realize you are in the process of abusing a word while you are writing, make some adjustments, but don’t get bogged down for a half an hour trying to decide if ‘your word’ is really necessary.

The best time to work on these tics, is after you’ve written a chunk of prose. Go back through and look for your problem word. You can use the find feature on your computer (Usually ctrl-F or command-F). As you edit, double-check to see if the word is really necessary, or if it can be changed. If you have to, rewrite the entire sentence.

Food for thought. I bet I’m not alone in my love affair with certain words 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

untitledI ran into this question while doing some research this past week, and it made me stop and think. Is my prose to beautiful? In my case, I would say no. I never grasped that concept. I have to admit I’ve tried.

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words.” This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.

George Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.”

He explained: “When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”

This overuse of description can also bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning.

Jerry Jenkins calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginners work he was editing.

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you are like me, you had to read it several times. That’s written-ese.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

Don’t Allow Your Characters To Steal The Show!

imagesGTB2JOL3I’m a little over half way through the revision process of the book I’m working on and dreading the next few weeks.

The first half of my novel flows. I love what’s happening and I love my characters. They all work together to accomplish what I need them to, but then it starts to get ugly.

I’m sure you have heard that once you start writing, your story can take on a life of it’s own. Well that happened to me with the introduction of  a new character. She took on a life of her own, stole the plot, and didn’t stop until almost the end of the story.

She did help in one area. She filled in the middle and carried me to the end, but I’ve never really liked the character, and I question where she went. She was nice, smart, and likeable, but  she totally disrupted the flow, and I allowed her to.  I had lost sight of the ending I had planned.

I have read through my manuscript many times. I hesitate and play with this character and the events perpetuated by her existence, every single pass through.

I’ve finally accepted the fact that she needs to go. If I’m not comfortable with the character and her role in my story, It’s bound to come across to my readers. It’s time to cut my losses and move on.

This of course means a lot of work for me. I can salvage some of scenes she is involved in by replacing her with existing characters that can fill the role, but I am still cutting about 25,000 words and reworking the latter part of my book to follow the path that I originally outlined.

I’m sure I’ve made a million novice mistakes that brought me to this point, one of the major ones was to give an unplanned character free reign over my manuscript. I allowed her to walk in the door and take my story to places it should have never gone.

I was amazed and thought, how great is this, my story is writing itself. Well in some instances that might have been a good thing, but in my story, it definitely was not. Some may consider it a great exercise in creativity to let a rogue character take off with your story. I would say as long as it’s controlled and she/he isn’t in a free fall. You have to maintain control.

What do you think?

 

Don’t Allow Your Characters To Steal The Show!

Cliché!

cliche-014As a writer, you know one of the  cardinal rules is to avoid clichés like the plague. Yes, I just used a cliché 🙂 See how easy it is. So what exactly is a cliché. It is a phrase or idea that is overused and portrays no original thought; a stereotype. There is nothing worse than being accused of lack of originality.

Cliché ideas are plots or subplots that pop up again and again. They are crutches for the writer to lean on. They move the story forward without much thought.

  • Having your character look in a mirror and describe themselves in great detail-This has been done to death. If you are writing in third person omniscient, it’s easy to drop a few major observations. First person is a bit harder but can be accomplished with a little thought. Put those creative juices to work.
  • The chosen one-Your hero isn’t just special. He/she has been chosen by some higher force. Characters can be special without being touched by the hand of fate.
  • Countdown clocks-Its a race against time. Will the hero prevail and save the day? Or will he fail, leaving death and destruction in his wake.
  • Veiling your story in a dream- You are devastated and can’t believe what just happened. How can the hero and heroine be killed!? Wait a minute, the heroine was just having a bad dream. Everyone is okay, you can relax.
  • Stalker love-The girl doesn’t love someone who loves her and he stalks her repeatedly. She finally realizes he loves her and falls head over heals.
  • Rush to the airport-You can’t let the love of your life get on that plane and fly off  never to be seen again. It wouldn’t make sense to catch a later flight and reunite with them later.
  • Guy and girl hate each other for some reason, but then fall in love- One of them does something stupid and they break up only to realize the mistake and meet later at a romantic place to make up.
  • Hero starts as shepherd/servant/farmboy-His family is killed and he moves on to become the all powerful prophesized hero.
  • An immortal falls in love with a mortal-He is willing to give up his immortality for true love.
  • Being stranded on a deserted island….

If you are going with an idea that is considered cliché, you had better come up with a way to make it stand out and read original. Get your creative juices flowing and make it your own.

clicheCommon phrases that you may not have realized were clichés are as follows:

  • accident waiting to happen
  • axe to grind
  • humble abode
  • take it like a man
  • naked truth
  • wreak havoc
  • spitting image
  • put all your eggs in one basket
  • matter of life and death
  • make or break
  • spill the beans
  • rock the boat
  • push someone’s buttons
  • one in a million
  • literally
  • life goes on
  • at the end of the day
  • in cold blood

There’s no way I could include every cliché in this blog, but I hope these get you thinking. Something else to look for when you start the editing process.

Online tools like autocrit, will locate and highlight clichés in your manuscript.

-Jan R

 

 

 

Cliché!

Writing A Novel-What Is Your Hook?

untitledHave you noticed some of the books you pick up, you can’t put down. I have stayed up until 3:00-4:00 in the morning finishing a book, because I had to know how it ended. I’ve  changed my plans for the day, because I couldn’t stop reading. That’s the kind of book I want to write.

There’s a writer I’ve followed on scribophile, who is way beyond most of the other aspiring authors on the site. My biggest frustration with her, is she doesn’t post her work fast enough, and I have to wait to see what happens next. She is great at building suspense and ending a chapter right before the climax. You have to read the next chapter to find out what happened. Or, she will dangle a little carrot in front of you and lead you by the nose. Pair this with charming characters, and you have a winner.

So, what tools are available to a writer trying to hold their reader hostage?

  • Surprise-Curiosity kills the cat and your reader. What on your first page is the reader not expecting to see? What is your hook?
  • Mystery-The thing about curiosity is that the reader doesn’t know what’s going on; what’s going to happen next. That’s why they have to keep reading.
  • Conflict-Your reader isn’t looking for a perfect world filled with love, joy, and peace. That may be your ultimate goal and resolution, but it had better be a little rocky along the way. What on your first page sets up conflict?
  • Charm-Your reader has to like your characters and be drawn into their world. Those characters are like family, and it matters what happens to them.
  • Resonance-The reader has to be able to relate to what’s going on. Your writing should evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions.

When you read that next great novel, think about why you can’t put it down. What is the author doing to keep you hooked. Are they using conflict, mystery, or maybe throwing in a couple surprises to pique your interest?

Hope this got you thinking. Make your novel inescapable.

-Jan R

 

Writing A Novel-What Is Your Hook?