Monday, March 07, 2011

What's on the Page?


The element I'll talk about this week is passive phrasing. When I do my first draft I just write. Well, I do have enough of an internal editor going on that I make changes as I write, but for the most part I put down the first thing that comes to mind as I'm tapping on the keyboard. That means the second time I read the passage I'm looking for things to fix. And usually but not always (according to one critique partner) I take out the passive phrasing that is inevitably there.

Passive phrasing tends to obscure the POV character and it also can be telling not to mention slows the pacing.

Some examples:
He was going to the store. The car was slow to start. She was angry he hadn't left yet. The whole argument was getting out of hand.

He had to get away, but he car refused to start. Jane stood at the door tapping her foot as if it was his fault the car wouldn't start. If he'd just kept his mouth shut this whole argument would have never happened.

Confession: The bottom correct writing was much easier to write for me than the top passive sentences. For one, the bottom I felt a part of the character as I wrote it which should make the reader feel a part of the character, while trying to put together passive sentences to tell a story was HARD! But for beginning writers the passive is easier. They tell the story rather than show. You don't want to tell the story you want to be in the story as you write it and write whet the characters are feeling and seeing. When you do that, it will take out most of the passive phrasing.

Watch for telltale words of passive phrasing like: Sentences that start with forms of there was, there is, and there are (or he/she was, he/she is, etc.) Began to can also be passive as well as was and an ing word

Use active verbs and use different ones. He walked(strode, jogged, paced) Find the perfect action word for each sentence. Make the story you're writing grab the reader and draw them in.

Also when you use passive phrasing the point of view person can become blurry. As with the two sentences above:

He was going to the store. She was angry he hadn't left yet.

The reader can't discern whose POV this story is in. If you were writing in omniscient POV it would work but it wold be boring.

It's Read an Ebook Week
and you can get my book Gambling on an Angel at 50% off at Smashwords this week.

26 comments:

rfirasek said...

Passive voice was one of the first things I had to learn to kill in my writing, but yeah, now writings fun and I have so many more verbs to use. Thanks!!!

Paty Jager said...

rfirasek, It is fun once you figure out how to make your writing pop. Thanks for commenting!

M Pax said...

It's something I try to edit out, too. I don't always succeed, but get most of it out.

Minnette Meador said...

This is one of the hardest craft lessons to learn for new writers. I come across it all the time as an editor. A great article, Paty. I'm going to post this on my FB Writer's page. Minnette :o)

Paty Jager said...

Mary, it is one of those things that's hard to see sometimes. Not all passive writing is easy to see. And sometimes it is necessary. It's knowing the rules and knowing you're breaking them for a reason.

Paty Jager said...

Minnette, thanks for spreading the blog!

Isabelle said...

This is an area where I need more work. Do you know of any classes for it?

Kim Bowman Author said...

Awesome post!!! Thank you so much for sharing, Paty.

Terry Odell said...

I've already scheduled my post on this topic at my blog for Wednesday. I've got some pet peeves about people who use Passive Voice when they really mean weak writing. There seems to be this fear of the word "was".

Maybe I'll see some of you over at "Terry's Place" on Wednesday.

Terry
Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Paty Jager said...

Isabelle,
It looks like Terry will have more on the subject at her blog on Wednesday also you can go to www.thewildrosepress.com and click on Greenhouse on the sidebar. They have articles on the different crafts of writing on their website.

Also if you aren't a member of SAVVY authors.com they probably have a class on it somewhere on their site.

Or just google passive writing.

Good luck!

Paty Jager said...

Thanks for stopping by Kim!

Paty Jager said...

Hi Terry, That's funny we both posted about this on the same week! I'll have to remember to stop by.

Renee Vincent said...

Thanks Paty! I try to stay clear of passive voice, but sometimes it can rear its ugly head. haha

Happy writing!

Paty Jager said...

Hi Renee! I think everyone has to watch for passive voice.

Lara said...

Luckily, in college (Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida) a history professor of mine rabidly hunted down any use of passive voice and made us correct it. Talk about craft-saving!

Paty Jager said...

Lara, That was a good teacher to get you prepared for your career! Thanks for stopping in!

Sarah Raplee said...

Great post, Paty!

Terri Reed said...

Good post,Paty. My first draft is barfed out without editing (or much anyway) too. Rewriting is so much easier!

Paty Jager said...

Hi Terri! Thanks for commenting.

Mary Vine said...

Thanks for the active/passive tips. I struggle with these, too.

Paty Jager said...

Thanks Sarah! Glad you stopped by!

Paty Jager said...

You're welcome, Mary!

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Paty,

Great advice and examples.
I love the cute guy, too. lol

Thanks for sharing!

Paty Jager said...

Karen, That "guy" is my inspiration for one of the books I have circulating looking for a home. Thanks for stopping in.

Jean Paradis said...

Good blog and so important. writing in active voice makes a story feel alive and urgent, where as passive voice always drags it down.

Paty Jager said...

Jean, that's so true. Nothing slogs down a story than passive voice IMO.