Wonderful words of wisdom. Sometimes life is just that much too much!
I know, it was the exclamation point that caught you, right? It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Sorry! Too much life!
In light of keeping it simple for old Sue, I’d like to invite you to visit my website to read my latest post.
Cheers to all of you!
image credit: pixabay
Today is my lucky day! Judy Post, a dear and wonderful writer-bud who is an awesome author of urban fantasy has answered my plea for help with passive/active voice. Please be sure to check out her links at the end of her informative, eye-opening article.
Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog, Sue!
The writers in my writers’ group are fierce about catching passive and active verbs, so when you asked me to write about active and passive voice, I thought I can do that. I get nailed on it a few times in every manuscript I read at Scribes. But then I pondered what would be the difference between active verbs and active voice, and that expanded the question.
First, let’s look at active verbs. Somewhere, in the mushy middle of every manuscript, I get lazy or mired and work so hard at keeping all of the story elements afloat and moving forward that my brain doesn’t spit out active verbs like it did at the beginning of the story. In the last fourth, the active verbs return to me, because the pace of the story is picking up and pushing me along, and my verbs try to keep pace with the increasing tension. But somewhere, inevitably, in the middle, I resort to lazy verbs: the “to be” verbs. “He was….” “They were….” “He had been…” The big no-no’s of writing. For instance, “Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird” uses an active verb. “To Kill A Mockingbird was written by Harper Lee” is passive. Active verbs are stronger and give a sense of doing.
The more specific verb you use, the better. For instance, I could say “The werewolf ran toward Reece.” Ran is an active verb. It shows action. Action builds tension and pace. But if I say, “The werewolf crouched and sprang at Reece,” I paint a more vivid picture. Vivid pictures bring your story to life. So not only do you want to use action verbs, you want to use strong, specific action verbs.
Strong, active verbs give a story momentum. They carry it forward, but there’s more to voice than verbs. For me, an active voice implies a protagonist who ACTS instead of constantly REacting. I’ve read books where the hero or heroine is acted UPON and then he/she reels from the events and just keeps repeating the process. There are times when people are victims or lost, but for an active story, the hero has to make decisions and act on them. He might fail, but if he does, he makes another game plan and tries again. I prefer strong characters over weak ones. I write urban fantasy, so my characters are more than happy to grab a sword or wield magic, but strong can mean facing life problems head-on, digging into an obstacle and working to overcome it. Life offers plenty of obstacles and challenges. An active voice, I think, means the protagonist is determined to overcome them. Every book starts when a protagonist gets tripped-up by life. Something changes in his world, and he doesn’t like it. The rest of the book tells how he deals with it and tries to fix it.
An active voice also implies persistent tension throughout the story. In my mind, conflict and tension are two separate things. A book’s conflict is something the protagonist must overcome—the book’s big question. In urban fantasy, the conflict can be a demon that’s popped up in Bay City to feast on mortals. My protagonist’s have to defeat him, and of course, demons aren’t easy to send home. My friend, Julia Donner, writes Regency romances. Romances, by definition, have to bring two people together by the end of the book. These people have to overcome obstacles to finally find a happy-ever-after. The hero’s conflict in her last book was that his father was a cruel tyrant and the hero had dyslexia—he couldn’t read. Therefore, he felt inadequate and defensive, which led to a propensity to pound anyone who made fun of him. He’d loved the heroine since he’d first seen her, but didn’t feel worthy of her. The heroine, on the other hand, was at the mercy of her unscrupulous cousin, because her parents had gone to Canada and disappeared. She needed saved. The major conflicts of the two characters led to the tensions that kept the story moving. The hero didn’t want the heroine to discover his secret. He thought he’d lose her for sure if she did. The heroine needed someone she could trust, and the hero’s evasiveness didn’t invite that. Every single scene cranked up those conflicts and tensions. Tension keeps us turning the pages to see what happens next. It doesn’t always have to be big. It can be a conversation between two people who disagree or between two people who don’t realize they DO agree. Tension just means that inner squirm, when we FEEL for the characters in each scene.
I’ve probably talked about active and passive as much as anyone wants to hear, so thanks to Sue for inviting me again. Here’s a link that gives more examples.
(and be sure to check out Judith’s links below!)
I know I missed Monday’s post, but I have good reason. I’m in the process of transferring my blogging over to my author site (www.suebahr.com). It’s kind of complicated, but the gist is you will receive my blog posts via email with the option to opt out from now on.
I’ll still keep wp going so I can read all your wonderful posts, but my posts will come from the other site.
Fingers crossed as Sue makes yet another journey into the Internet world!
For now, I wish you all the happiest of writings!
image credits: pixabay.com
If you’ve been around writing long enough, you know all about the labels of plotters and pansters. Some of you proudly embrace your title. Others refuse to be categorized as either. Some lucky ones have figured out how to be both!
Perhaps you’re all about plotting. You have the major turning points laid out, the chapters titled and organized for maximum impact. You’ve completed character wheels for every character, including the baddie…
Or maybe you’ve accepted that will never be your style. You have to write organically. You need to write the story to know the story. Your characters have to show you the way, so you jump without a parachute…
Okay, so I couldn’t find someone jumping without a parachute. Probably a good thing, anyway…
It’s a no-brainer where I fall. Yup, my brain lives in pantserville.
I’ve fought the pull of plotters. I’ve lived in mad envy of a well-oiled story. I’ve beat myself up for failing to plot one too many times.
So last week while on Sabbatical, I dove into my failed NaNo novel, Drift. I’d finished the first quarter of the book, right up to the first turning point, but was stalled on the mid-section of the book. I have tried everything to plot this story…
1. I outlined.
a. I figured out the major turning points or disasters.
b. I wrote them down.
c. I didn’t know what came next.
2. I created a Excell spreadsheet listing every chapter with summary.
a. Well, every chapter up to the first turning point. Then I got lost because…
b. I didn’t know what came next.
3. I gave up and pretended not to worry about plot structure at all, believing it will all work out in the end.
a. I wrote some stuff.
b. I still didn’t know what came next.
4. I heaved a BIG SIGH
I’m not sure if it was the Sabbatical (which entailed a break from my computer for writing as well as for social media) or if I stumbled on an unused part of my brain, but for some reason, I finally figured out how to plot!
Now, to get back to the subject at hand (pun intended). As I said, I was stalled. I knew the major turning points, but what to do with all that stuff that goes in between?! Since I was going old-school, I took a piece of paper, wrote the turning point scene at the top and left it blank. Then it hit me – I knew what should come right before and right after that point. Out came more paper – each noted with basic information on top and left blank.
I continued this way until a full scene materialized. So, seeing as I already had a blank piece of paper and pen in hand, I wrote that scene. This led to the next and the next, and well, within the span of an hour or so, I had the middle and end of Drift plotted.
I’m not sure why this worked for me and why I couldn’t simply draft an outline like most able-bodied writers can. Something about physically seeing the chapters as separate pieces of paper clicked. And, as a side benefit – I was able to insert transitional chapters or move some around…
Just think. All this goodness happened without staring at a computer screen. Lucky me!
And so, for those of you who roll up your pants and wade in, only to find yourself stuck mid-way through, I encourage you to give the Sue-thingy (that’s a real term – you can Google it) a go. You never know. Might work for you, too.
I wish you all the best!
I’m taking a leap here and simplifying my electronic world for the week. No computer editing on my ya fantasy, no Facebook, no posting. I need to give my brain a much needed vacation, but I’ll be back. I promise. And I’ll read what I can of your wonderful posts.
I’ll still be writing…
But it will be old school.
Cheers to all of you!
This is an excerpt from last year’s failed NaNo novel. But failure is relative, as I’ve continued to plot and love this ya story. And just to give you bearings, the “I” is True Spencer, a 17-year-old girl living on the run with her mother. Yup, the baddy is the dad.
Monday morning, I drag myself from bed and dress in the dark for my first day at a new school. Mom’s still sleeping, exhausted from working a double shift at the hospital. She’s happy with her new job and furious when townsfolk continue to pop in unannounced, bringing home-baked goodies that smell heavenly and taste even better. She refuses to answer the door, so I smile and greet each one like it’s the most natural thing in the world to accept their hospitality.
Mom grows more distant with each visit and the only thing holding us here is her job. I have to change that. I have to keep the townsfolk a safe distance from us so she’ll settle down and we can stay.
Because, that’s what I want to do.
I want a chance with Jeffersonville’s elite gymnastics team. I want a shot at a college scholarship. I want a chance at normalcy.
I grab my backpack and head down the mountain, slipping in the fresh snow that continues to fall. The road’s too narrow for a school bus to navigate and there’s no turn around at the top, so I was told to wait at the Blue Line Diner.
I wave to Polly who’s setting up for the breakfast crowd and shuffle from foot to foot. My toes are frozen. My breath hovers in front of my face like a little gray cloud. I’m expecting a large yellow bus, so I don’t know what to do when a white van pulls up.
The door slides opens. “You True Spencer?” The woman calls from inside.
I nod. My teeth are too clenched to talk.
“Well, come on before you freeze to death.”
I climb inside the weirdest school bus I’ve ever used. It’s a mini-van—the kind parents use to drive their children to the mall, or to the park. It’s the kind of car that represents everyone else’s normal.
I don’t know the kids sitting in the two bucket seats and they don’t acknowledge me. Each stare out the window like it’s uncomfortable acknowledging a stranger. I climb into the back and plunk down on the bench seat, knowing they’re right to keep to themselves because I’ll never be more than a stranger.
Jeffersonville High School is set in a valley, sandwiched between jagged snow-capped mountains. Like every cookie-cutter school, it’s made of ugly brown brick. I find the main office, hoping my fake paperwork will be good enough. Mom’s been too busy to work her usual magic and that left me scrambling, trying to figure out a story and how to doctor up some documents that look official.
I tap my fingers on the formica countertop as I wait for the secretary to finish on the phone. Maybe I am too quiet, or my presence doesn’t register with her, so, when she hangs up and begins typing on her computer, I clear my throat.
“Be right with you,” she says. Each word is snapped out like I’m a bug buzzing her ear.
Another harassed school secretary, hating their job. Why are they always so nasty? Do they start out that way or does the job change them, draining away any ability to care?
Any hope I have that she’ll be lenient disappears with her impatient shuffle to the counter. It’s going to be a hard sell—my documents aren’t as official looking as the ones Mom should have created.
“Yes?” She says. Her glasses are too large and worn too far down on her nose. Makes her sound like she has a cold.
“I’m True Spencer. I’m transferring here from Texas.”
Why do they always use one word? It’s like a game—see who can use the fewest words. The one who speaks in a full sentence loses.
“Sure thing. Here you go,” I say and slide an envelope toward her on the counter. She leaves me staring and looking around while she goes back to her computer, my bogus paperwork in hand.
I hate waiting in a school office. I always feel like I’ve done something wrong. I breathe in and breathe out and count the seconds until I can get out of this office.
The secretary huffs as she looks through her glasses at the computer. My hands go cold and clammy. Huffing is never a good sign.
“I have no record of a transfer from this school.” She remains behind the desk, leaving me to lean in to hear her better.
“We moved just before the holiday break,” I say. “Maybe it’s delayed?”
She shakes her head. “This paperwork makes no sense. I can’t use it to record a transfer without something directly from your sending school.”
My breathing stops. This, I have dreaded since the moment I woke up. No transfer, no gymnastics.
“Can you give it a few days?” I say. “It should come through soon.” I need to buy time for Mom to get the bogus paperwork in order.
She disappears from the office without acknowledging my question. Kids don’t rate polite conversation, at least not to this woman.
I’m digging my fingertips into my palm and jigging my foot as the first period bell rings, summoning kids to their homeroom. I’m entering the school mid-year. I’m trying not to think about the catchup work I have ahead of me when the secretary reappears, carrying my fake paperwork.
She stamps it, writes something on it and finally approaches the counter carrying a clipboard.
“You can enroll. Fill this in. Until I receive confirmation from your sending school though, no teams, no sports.”
My heart drops to the floor and breaks into a million pieces. I rush my words. “But, when you get the papers, I can join up, right?”
“That’ll be up to the Board to decide.”
The Board, as in School Board? “Is it that bad?”
She looks at me over the top of her glasses. “Too many discrepancies. Too much missing information. No sports until your enrollment is all sorted out.”
The secretary returns to her desk, ignoring the kid that’s just arrived and waits behind me, leaving me to stare at paperwork I have no idea how to fill out and an empty place where my heart once existed.
image credit: pixabay.com
I am a writer who put the cart before the horse. Yes, I know that’s cliche, but when one fits, one should use them.
My first story came from a dream. I woke, jotted down the gist and proceeded to spend the next three years trying to make sense of the mess I’d created.
Imagine a little kitten, playing with a ball of yarn. Yup, tangled plot points, confusing character arcs… this story had it all!
I approached my next story a little better armed. I’d read up on plotting, but my panster-brain refuse to digest the information. That story holds together, but just barely.
Fed up, I dug into how-to books. I was time to teach an old dog new tricks. Each (all found dirt cheap on Kindle) approach plotting from unique perspectives. One works better for plotsters (Martha Alderson). The rest will appeal to pansters. Regardless of your leaning I think you’ll find them helpful.
I know you’re all chomping at the bit, so without further ado, I give you the five awesome how-to books that changed things for Sue…
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, by Randy Ingermanson
Blockbuster Plots by Martha Alderson
Writing the Heart of Your story, by C.S. Lakin
Write Your Story from the Middle, by James Scott Bell
The Story is a Promise, by Bill Johnson