A Simple Way to Detect Passive Voice

A good grammar book will tell you what ‘passive voice’ is much better than I, but I’ll give it a go.  Briefly, it’s when the subject is having something done to it (passive), rather than doing something (active).  So what?  I hear you ask.  Well, in order to gain maximum reader engagement, you need maximum reader involvement.  The more action, the more your reader is ‘living’ your story, making it irresistable.

Passive voice describes things in a way that leaves the reader standing outside the story looking in, aware they are watching a scene unfold before them rather than losing themselves in it.  At first, I didn’t think this would make that much difference to me as a reader, but in reading through my own work after I’d put it away for a while, I really noticed the shift in my reading consciousness and level of engagement with the story.

So when I’m rewriting, passive construction is one of the first things I look out for.  I don’t look at every sentence and ask myself if there’s an active subject in it.  While I might have been OK at English at school, I mostly do things by feel.  If it feels right, then it is right.  I’m lucky enough not to have too much of a problem with grammar – cheers to my primary school education, despite moving schools mid way through my primary years!

I look out for any form of the word ‘be’, including ‘was’ and ‘is’.  If it’s with the past participle of a verb, it’s passive voice, but I don’t spend time trying to work that out.  When I spot the ‘be’ words, I just try and find another way of writing the sentence.  And do you know, I get the most amazing work at the end of it?  More action, more excitement, more plot.

Which is kind of ironic, considering all those self-help books I read tell me to stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’.

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A Good Solution is a Two-Edged Sword

Now this is interesting.

In working on what my main ‘push’ was going to be for the last 20,000 words of my work in progress, I finally came up with a great idea that will tie everything together.  Trouble is, it’s such a strong theme that I could have written the whole book with it.  Now I’m wondering if I should go back and write it in.

Don’t you just hate that?

The Difference Between Revising and Rewriting

OK, not sure how this will pan out, but here goes. 

The difference between revising and rewriting is the same as the difference between dreaming and doing.  In other words, revising is where you think about how your first draft fits with what you saw/felt/heard in your head.   You make notes to yourself on where your draft leaves you flat, or your characters aren’t sounding right, or where you see a redirection is needed.  It involves big plans and aiming high.

Rewriting is putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak.  It’s when you have to sit down and wrestle with your characters and plot until hopefully you bring things together better than they were before.   It’s getting down and dirty in the detail, up to your elbows in scenes and sentences.  You come up for air, blinking and gasping, and then plunge back in again.

What I don’t know yet, is how much of the revising makes it into the rewriting.  Stay tuned!

The Difference Between Revising and Editing

I had a bit of a light bulb go off today.  I realised that while I had been thinking that revising and editing are the same thing, this is not the case!  They are two separate steps in the writing process.

Revising is when you’ve finished the draft and you’re reading through it for the feel of the story, which might involve dealing with the structure, logic or flow.  You’re testing to see if the characters are strongly enough developed for the storyline you’ve chosen, if the story is grounded enough in setting to feel real and if the plot accelarates at the right pace.  These are all big picture things, like playing with the large shapes of a painting making sure you’re getting the composition right.  You’re looking at the big blobs to see if they balance each other and make you feel easy.  It’s not about detail.

Editing is where you’ve done the big picture work, you feel comfortable the story is balanced right and you’re looking at the finer detail of language and sentence structure, as well as picking up those stray typos we all miss.  This is where you’re getting down to the nitty gritty of ‘is that the right word there?’ or ‘would that character really say that?’, and it can only really be done when the revising has finished.

Now that I’ve figured it out, it seems so obvious!

The 2nd Draft isn’t always a 2nd Draft…

… or at least that’s what I’ve found.  This is because I see where I need to stuff and have to start writing.  That is, I see where I need an extra chapter to balance out point of view or where I need to work in more of a transition or resolution.  This is all first draft.  So in actual fact, it’s not a 2nd draft until I’ve gone over all of these bits and pieces (which won’t be done til the end, as I like to finish it before going back over things). 

So really, this is a 1st and a half draft!

2nd Draft, Here I Come!

I’ve had a lovely 3 weeks’ break from my manuscript, and I’m now ready to tackle the second draft.  I’m a bit nervous, to be honest with you.  I don’t want to read it and realise how bad it is!  Worse – I don’t want to read it, realise how bad it is and NOT KNOW HOW TO FIX IT!

It’s all very nervewracking.  Where does one start?  I think I’ll start with mapping out the point of view for each chapter, so I can see where I need to add more of one viewpoint or cut back on another.  Amazing how just developing that plan settles my tumtum!