The Easy Way to Detect Passive Voice

The Easy Way to Detect Passive Voice

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Passive voice weakens clarity. The difference between active and passive voice is the difference between things happening to a character and the character making things happen. You should write in active voice with only a few exceptions. What does this mean? Is there an easy way to detect passive voice?

Examples

First, some examples of active and passive voice.

Active: “The cook chopped the mushrooms.”
Passive: “The mushrooms were chopped by the cook.”

In the active voice, the subject is doing something or being something.

In the passive voice, the subject is being acted upon or having something done to them.

A longer example might help. Wally can’t get the internet to come up and destroys his computer system.

First, in passive voice.

“The internet wasn’t coming up for Wally. None of his links would load. The three hole punch was in his hand before he could think clearly. The speakers went flying. The keyboard got smashed and several letters flew off. The monitor cracked as the end of the punch hit it dead center.”

Now, in active voice.

“Wally couldn’t get the internet working. He clicked links that didn’t load. He had the three hole punch in his hand before he could think clearly. Wally smashed the speakers off the desk. He smashed the keyboard and letters went flying. He smashed the end of the punch into the monitor and cracked the screen.”

Mixed Active and Passive

Beware of mixing active and passive in the same sentence.

“Jim picked up the laundry and plans were made for the day.” The second part is passive and needs to be re-written. “Jim picked up the laundry and made plans for the day.”

When is Passive Voice Okay?

Passive is okay when what is acted upon is more important. “The warehouse was burned down sometime shortly after midnight.”

Passive is okay when the actor is unimportant. “The tidal bore can be seen at 8am and 8pm.”

Passive is also okay in technical and scientific papers where the person doing the acting is not mentioned. “The test was given to 452 subjects. Non-lethal doses of cyanide were injected in half the subjects. Sugar water was injected in the other half.”

Passive voice is also useful when an object becomes a subject. “The gamers decided to go with the SWAT team format for their new game design. The SWAT team concept had been written by Kyoshi.”

The take-away from this is to be sure the subject of a sentence is the one taking action rather than receiving it and you will easily detect passive voice.


Article by Ivan Izo.

Lester Dent’s Prolific Writing Method

Lester Dent's Prolific Writing Method

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Lester Dent wrote hundreds of books and short stories. He is best known for the 159 Doc Savage books he wrote under the pseudonym Kenneth Robeson. While we have to guess the methods of many prolific writers, Lester Dent told us his secret.

Lester Dent’s Formula

Dent used a Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot which he claimed was good for any story of 6000 words. The link I had to the full text now gets flagged as a risky site by Firefox, so I’ll summarize it.

Start with a different murder method, a different goal for the villain, a different location, and always have a threat hanging over the hero. You need at least one of those differences to start your story. Get the hero in trouble immediately and have him take action. Within the action, introduce all the other characters as soon as possible. Keep the story moving with more action, complications, and plot advancement. Have a surprise plot twist at each 25% mark in the story. In each quarter, pile on the trouble, the complications, and keep moving the plot ahead by having the hero figure out more and more of what’s going on. The plot needs to be written in a way that causes the action to be continuous. In the third quarter, the hero needs to have a serious defeat and appear to have failed. The final surprise plot twist leads into the final quarter of action, complications, and everything is coming to a head. Bury the hero in trouble and have him escape using his skills. Wind up the story with one more twist as all questions are answered and the hero defeats the villain in a final great conflict. Be sure the story leaves the reader with a good feeling.

While researching Dent, I’ve found his plan adapted for screenwriting and video game design. I’m sure it’s been used for full length novels as well. There’s enough going on in his plot to fill a novel.

Barbara Cartland, author of over 700 romance novels, used the same basic outline for all of her novels. Not Dent’s. Her own. I wonder how many of the other authors who produced 100s of books used formulas.

I also wonder if we can dump the pulp element.

Continue reading Lester Dent’s Prolific Writing Method

Escape Endless Revision

Escape Endless Revision

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As any writer knows, it’s possible to revise forever. At some point you need to decide it’s done and move on to another project.

Two years ago, I found myself endlessly revising blog articles. The following two paragraphs outline my dilemma and solution.

I revise my writing too much. I know this because I find myself getting bored of endlessly revising articles. It seems like I’m going around and around the same group of 50 or 60 articles eternally. An article idea must have a couple of hundred words before I promote it to a first draft. The first draft must be worked on until it’s long enough and has all the components that make an article. Then, I have four revisions before I’m willing to call it finished. Even when I go through the finished articles, I won’t release them as blog posts until I’m certain they are good enough.

The endless revisions must end. But, I don’t want to stop writing. What to do? A different kind of writing is the answer. A different subject. A switch between fiction and non-fiction. A switch between articles and a book.

Continue reading Escape Endless Revision

Keep Your Characters in Character

Keep Your Characters in Character

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If you base your characters on people you know in real life, it will be easy to remember their personalities.

Examples: Mother, father, sisters and brothers, other close relatives, long time friends and co-workers, characters in a novel series, characters on TV or in a movie series that you’ve been watching for years.

You’ll never be lost on what a character would say. Just imagine what the real person would say.

To make it really simple to remember who represents who, write your story using the real names. When you’re done, use Find and Replace to change all the names to the fictional characters.

As your completed writing builds up, you will be able to base future novels and short stories on your own characters instead of the real people.


Article by Ivan Izo.

23 More Ways to Generate Article Ideas

23 More Ways to Generate Article Ideas

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I’ve previously written about Nine Places to Get Article Ideas. The following list suggests more ways to dream up and research articles.

1. Write about something that pisses you off.

2. Write an anti-article. For example, six ways to gain weight fast. The idea is that readers will use the tips in reverse.

3. Review your article ideas list for ideas you keep passing up and consider the opposite bias. Can’t get going on an article about how to proofread? Write one on when you shouldn’t.

4. Look for ideas when you are nowhere near your keyboard. While driving, shopping, working, or out with friends.

Continue reading 23 More Ways to Generate Article Ideas

Your Right to Write Wrong

Your Right to Write Wrong

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When you read writing books and blogs, and participate in writing forums, you find lots of rules for writing. There are shoulds and musts for everything from comma usage to major transitions. When you read a few “100 Best Books” of any era or genre, those rules go out the window.

The truth is, there is no one right way. Any way you want to write can be the right way. It would be nice if you could make your writing clearer, a faster read, or more entertaining. It would also be nice if your books would sell. For those reasons and because it’s no fun staring at a blank page, there are guidelines for how to write a book, an article, or anything in between.

In other words, it’s a good idea to learn what writing methods have worked in the past and then write what you want. The more you deviate from tradition the more likely your writing will fail. But if you don’t deviate from tradition you’re one of the crowd. It’s conformity versus deviance. Like most situations where there are two extremes, somewhere in the middle usually works out for the best.

I was inspired to write this article after reading a post about how important it was for a novel to have major changes that break it into thirds. Many of those commenting said they stopped reading books that didn’t have a major change at the 33% point. That’s some strict reading. What about the story arc novel structure that has rising action up to the halfway point, a major change, and falling action in the second half? It may have big upsets in any part of the story but only the one guaranteed upset in the middle. I guess those writers are out of luck with the three act readers.

What follows are a few examples of writing rules that were broken by great writers. It doesn’t show every broken writing rule, you have other things to do, but enough to make it clear that it’s your right to write wrong.

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Your Outline Starts as a Guideline

Your Outline Starts as a Guideline

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As you know from reading the blog, I’m all about learning to write faster. One way to accomplish that is avoiding re-writes. My current novel is at about 107,000 words instead of falling short like earlier ones. I give all the credit to writing an outline first. The recommended outline length is one tenth the length of your novel. The original outline for “Book 5” came to about eight thousand words, so the novel was a little short in the early revisions. What have I learned about planning a novel? What’s my plan for the next novel?

Continue reading Your Outline Starts as a Guideline