Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Don't Make This a Passive Year!

Let's start Writing Wednesdays this year on a strong getting rid of those passive verbs that make your manuscript Telling.

The trick is to let your character Show the scene through his/her specific experience of the moment, and part of this is using stronger verbs to mirror the tone so as to pull the reader into the experience with your main character.

Now remember, the first draft is just that, a first draft....let it all out and who cares how it reads or what specific words you use. THE most important thing about the first draft is that you get the story out of your head and onto the paper/computer screen--because there is a good chance it won’t ever get written if it stays in your brain while you try to get it “perfect.” Trust me, I know because I am sooooo bad at doing that.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” 
~ Terry Pratchett

It is when you are revising that you want to start layering in details for the reader, choosing specific word that will paint a vivid picture, deepen your characters, and bring out a fully rounded story.

"Was" before an "ing" word is the biggest red flashing light you want to look for to revise the Passive out of your manuscript. To be clear, it is not wrong to have some of these type of verb phrases; you just don’t want to only have them, or have a large percentage of them, as it will lend to a Telling read. You  want to make sure you have sought out and assessed each instance to ensure if they are valid or could be stronger.

Let’s see a few examples in three different ways—Telling/Passive, the Better choice, and a Stronger version, which could Show more specifically the experience of the character in that moment:

Telling/Passive: was walking
Better: walked
Stronger: strolled, meandered, hurried, scurried, strutted, sashayed—each one gives a very different experience of the moment, and using the right word to mirror your character’s mood/perception at that time will strengthen the overall tone of the scene.

Telling/Passive: was eating
Better: ate
Stronger: gulped, chewed, chomped

Telling/Passive: was thinking
Better: thought, considered
Stronger: studied, mused, contemplated, worried

Again, occasional use of the passive can work, but when the goal is to draw your reader into the moment, a more descriptive verb that mirrors the tone of the scene  paints a moment they can experience with your character.

Try it in your own manuscript by doing a Find search for "ing" on a few pages at a time and see how many passive verbs you can strengthen.

Keep passive writing back in 2018.  Let's make 2019 a strong and active writing year! 😉

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