If an editor suggests writing things in active voice, what does this really mean?
In a nutshell, with sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action that is expressed in the verb. It can sometimes be a strange concept to grasp, but with practice and repetition, you’ll start to notice it everywhere, especially on radio & TV news bulletins.
For our first example:
Active: The company ships the computers overseas.
In this instance, the company is the subject, and performs the action, which in this instance is the word ‘ships’.
However, in passive voice, the subject sometimes disappears, and the object – in this case the computers – have the action performed on them by the subject.
Passive: Computers are shipped overseas.
In this example, we don’t know the subject, so the reader is left to assume that the computers are shipped “by the company”
Active voice tells us who is doing what.
Active: The chef is preparing the food.
Compare this to the Passive: The food is being prepared.
The implication in the passive example is that someone is preparing food, but the writer hasn’t told us the subject. It could be a group of students, chefs, or even criminals keen to mend their ways.
They key “flag” to look for in passive voice is not past tense, but the implied “by whom”, usually left off the end of a sentence.
The boy kicked the ball – active
The ball was kicked by the boy – passive
The delivery man brought the package yesterday - active
The package was delivered yesterday – passive.
Implied “by whom” – you assume it was the postie. But it might have been a neighbour, a lover, or a carrier pigeon.
Passive voice is often indirect, whereas active voice makes things more direct. Use active voice when you want to pick up the pace and move things along.
There is nothing wrong with their passive or active voice, it’s more a matter of working out which works best for your situation. If you’re writing a non-fiction report or analysis, then passive voice can work well. If you’re writing a novel full of action and romance, (gee, really?) then active can keep things humming.
One of the drawbacks of passive voice is that it can let people off the hook.
We made mistakes – active. This means you’ve owned up to your mistakes.
Mistakes were made – passive – leading the reader to wonder, “yes, but who made them and who can I blame?”
So the key is to read a sentence and ask yourself if you know who’s doing it, or who’s done it. If you’re left wondering ‘by what or by whom’ then it’s passive voice.
Snares, traps and blunders:
Avoid starting a sentence in active voice and then shifting to passive, or vice versa.
Voice shift: Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, but it was still ordered frequently.
Revised: Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, but they still ordered it frequently.
Voice shift: He tried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but he was still laughed at by the other students.
Revised: He tried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but the other students still laughed at him.
Now that you’ve seen a few examples, you’ll find yourself noticing them more and more. It doesn’t mean passive is ‘wrong’ but when it’s overused, it makes things sound dull and lifeless. Listen to ABC 774 news and it’s full of passive voice. I’ll bet they haven’t noticed!
Where Passive voice works well.
There are often times when passive voice requires less text, because of the implied subject.
"Rules are made to be broken," he said defiantly. Is a great use of passive voice. To put this in active voice, would weaken the idea that some rules really are made to be broken. “I was made to break rules” makes me sound like I’m up myself
“Trespassers prosecuted”. Is a fine example of good passive. To write this in active, you’d need to say something like “We will prosecute trespassers”
For the comprehensive worksheet that accompanies this article, please visit the "Articles on Writing Craft Page of our website and you'll find the complete workshop.
Ebony McKenna is published in Young Adult fiction her webpage is http://www.ebonymckenna.com/
Happy Easter Everyone
As an author, I've discovered my creative process needs to be supported by a physically and mentally fit body. Occupational health and safety is as important to me, working alone on a laptop at the kitchen table, as it is to a construction worker.
A sore neck, a horrible ache between the shoulders, and other physical problems associated with poor posture, can bring my creative process to a halt. Also an all work and no play attitude can lead to fallow periods of creative and physical exhaustion. OH&S is, in my opinion, not so much a fear based be-careful-and-be-aware-process as much as it is a common sense approach that helps me to spend more productive time at the keyboard, doing what I love.
Construction workers learn how to bend and pick up heavy items. An author needs to be able to do that too. I'm getting ready for when the promo copies of my first published book arrives from the publisher (positive thinking at work here). Lift with the legs, keep your back straight and hold the precious box of books close to my body. When sitting and typing for long periods of time I need to be realistic. It can take a toll on my body and mind if we don’t observe some OH&S guidelines to keep me in the best condition for creativity.
There are many websites available on Google that will give you exact measurements for sitting at a computer and I advise you visit some and get the facts. I’ve done that, but if I need to get out the measuring tape I won’t bother. So here’s what works for me. I sit on an ergonomic chair that is adjusted so that my knees are at a right angle and both feet rest flat on the floor. If I weaken and cross my legs, I have to jump around on one foot when I get up because the other has fallen to sleep.
The small of my back is supported with a cushion and my shoulders are back and neck is erect so the keyboard placement reflects this, as does the screen height. The mouse is kept close as possible to my keyboard. It may sound obvious to make sure the keyboard and screen are directly in front of you and you aren't twisting your back or neck to view it, but I've often become out of alignment. I place my screen about an arm and a palms distance away and have special had reading glasses made up to focus at this distance.
I get up and take breaks. Wow, that can be so difficult. When I’m on a roll, I can sit and type until my bladder is as big as a fit ball and have to walk cross legged to the loo. So I have learned this is best avoided by keeping track of the time in the bottom right hand corner of the screen and taking a break every hour. Yep every hour. I go to the loo and then refill my glass of water. I've found my brain works so much better when it isn't resembling a prune.
I stop for lunch and weather permitting I eat it outside in the courtyard. I look at the trees far away and then at the flowers up close and I breath deep. This gives my eye muscles a work out and gets my heart pumping oxygen around, fabulous for the brain too. You should probably do this every half hour but I can’t honestly say that I do. I do however repeat this routine in the garden whenever I become stuck. It seems to clear the blockage for me. Two to five minutes contemplation in the garden and I usually get a breakthrough.
I go for a walk at least three times a week. My favorite walk, in the current Melbourne heat, is up and down the air-conditioned, local shopping mall. On pleasanter days I like to visit a nearby lake.
Remember the RDO the construction worker has? Yes? Well, I totally agree with this for authors. It’s different from the weekend. This is a day you’d normally be working on your writing or other job. You can still exercise what fab romance writer and tutor, Anne Gracie, calls the writing muscle and put some words down but just do half an hour or so. Keeping happy has to be the most important ingredient in the creative process. The passion for writing may feed your happiness but someone who is so depressed they can’t get out of bed, isn't going to write anything.
I began taking a day for myself once a week. I called it Dora Day. Dora Day now happens about once a month and it involves doing anything I fancy. A massage, visiting an art gallery, going on a boat cruise from Melbourne’s South Bank to Williamstown, a stroll along the St Kilda pier, or lunch at the Block Arcade followed by a long browse in a bookshop. These are just a few of the things that constitute a Dora Day.
You get the idea. It’s day you give to yourself, to be filled with anything you like. I’m always uplifted and refreshed after my RDO. So, if I’m a little jaded and it feels as though I’m swimming upstream, I prescribe myself a Dora Day. It always does the trick.
I invite you to have a think. What would you do on your (fill in your name) Day?
The most important aspect of writing a good historical novel is that you must be passionate about your subject. You might get away without this passion in contemporaries but you won’t in historicals.
Historical accuracy is paramount. Without this, your novel is doomed and so are you.
A friend of mine read a novel from a well known author and found a glaring historical inaccuracy, which should never have been written by the author in the first place. It certainly should have been picked up by the editor, but it wasn’t. My friend has never bought another book from this author because she says, I can’t trust her anymore.
You should always write about an era that you are interested in. I am not into Vikings or Regency, so it would be tedious trying to do the research required for this, and I wouldn’t have the passion about it, and I am sure this would show in my writing.
Research options are many and varied.
The internet (use with caution unless you are certain that the person who posted knows what they are talking about).
Library reference books are a great place to start.
Cemeteries (as long as you aren’t scared of spiders and snakes).
Quizzing elderly relatives (depending, of course, on which era you are writing about). 2nd World War, Vietnam, Great Depression – all o.k. because they would have lived during these times.
Accessing family diaries and/or letters.
Actually visiting places where your story takes place or somewhere similar is a must, if possible.
I visited an old jail (now a tourist attraction) for my novel, Daring Masquerade, because my heroine was jailed for being a spy. I wanted to see what it was like. The walls were solid bluestone and cold, even on a warm day. The cell was small, and I swear there was a spooky aura about the place. I took a notebook with me and jotted down these feeling as they came to me.
Depending on what you are writing, for your settings I think it is imperative to name some towns or cities near to where your stories are going to be played out.
You must know the area, either by having visited it, or careful research. You need to know what grows there, the terrain, climate etc. I always set most of my stories in Australia in North Eastern Victoria, because I know the area well. Mention a few main towns, but I am never too specific, because you can get easily caught out. (I am talking historical romance here, not a text book on history). I always make up a fake town near a main town or city.
In my novel, Wild Oats, set in 1916, I said the heroine lived at Dixon’s Siding (made up name) i.e. They left the farm at Dixon’s Siding, and after riding for an hour (I am talking horseback here,) reached Wangaratta, which is a major town in the area.
I purposely did not say that Dixon’s Siding was (exactly 10 miles west of Wangaratta at the fork of the Smith/Jones Road, because I didn’t know for sure, that there wasn’t a giant lake there or a massive quarry in 1916. I probably could have found out with more research, but it wasn’t really necessary.
A little quiz, to show you what I mean.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE STATEMENTS?
1.30a.m., 25th April 1915. Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey
Danny shivered in the chilly air as he waited on the deck of the troopship. In the darkness he couldn’t see land, even though someone said it was less than three miles away. When his turn came, he climbed down the rope ladder and found himself in an open boat. Excitement surged through him. He had traveled halfway around the world for this moment and was keen to give a good account of himself.
A. The soldiers landed at 0130 hours, not 1.30a.m. No soldier would say 1.30a.m. The army always uses the 24 hour clock
My work in progress is set in 1854
On arrival at the homestead, Melanie unsaddled the mare and let her loose in the stockyards James had constructed from split logs. Surprising how neglected a house became after being left empty for a few days
Within 5 minutes she had dusted the kitchen and was sitting down having a cup of hot milky tea?
Where did she get the milk? Not from the refrigerator. She would have had to milk the cow first. The water would have to be boiled on a wood stove? She would have had to light the stove, maybe even cut the wood. (No microwaves in those days).
In Daring Masquerade in 1916, the heroine, desperate to find out what has happened to her husband who is missing in action, rings up a family friend who is a Colonel in the army. She punches in the telephone number and anxiously waits for him to pick up the phone.
No, she lives in the country, so she would have contacted the operator, dialled the exchange etc. And she certainly didn’t use a mobile phone. And, on her wedding night, her nightgown was exquisite, a soft, white polyester, lavishly trimmed with lace.
No polyester in those days, it would have been cotton, silk or even satin.
Know the area you are writing about
This is an extreme example, but it does happen.
England - It was December, the sun streamed down from a cloudless blue sky and Amy felt so hot she didn’t know how she would be able to walk back to the railway station.
Of course, in England in December, it would be winter time. Here in Australia it is summer.
You must be aware of modern language and slang, and don’t use it.
A poor, uneducated person wouldn’t speak the same way as a rich, educated person.
There are lots of traps for the unwary, but historical romance writing is very rewarding and if done correctly, can transport your reader back to another time and place full of daring exploits and handsome, swashbuckling heroes.
This Sunday is our AGM, so please read the Constitution and advise Cheryl of any points to be discussed and voted upon.
As usual, the committee will step down and nominations taken.
$55.00 annual fees are due as well as $50 deposit and/or $80 balance for those members attending the May retreat.
Melissa will be conducting a short workshop on blogging & RSS. After lunch, Sara (and possibly a guest) will be discussing the global book sale situation. Then we'll have critiquing and/or brainstorming.
Meeting commences at 11 a.m.
Coffee and chat at 9.30 a.m.