Get the Yawn Out of Your Writing

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I’ve read a few of Stephen King’s books, including Misery, but I wouldn’t call myself a Stephen King fan – one who gobbles up everything he writes. I’m more of a Stephen King appreciator. But now that I’ve read his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, I appreciate him more.

One of the things I learned from the book is to avoid the passive tense. King speculates why so many writers are attracted to passive verbs: “I think timid writers like them for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.” With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject. For instance, The divorce papers were filed by Darcy. When the subject causes the action the sentence would then read: Darcy filed for divorce. See how the emotion of the sentence changes as well?

Learning is one thing. Applying is another, as old habits are hard to break.

Since I’m working on a teen novel, I had the perfect vehicle to practice on. If my novel is a yawner, what busy teen is going to stick around and read it? They want action! So I’ll give it to them!

With the intent of converting passive sentences to active ones, I did a Find for the words “was” and “were” and quickly located sentences in my manuscript that needed help.

For instance: An urgent message from the school was notifying Burk that they had found his robobaby became Burk’s global buzzed with an urgent message from school to come claim his robobaby.

Give the Find function on your computer a try and see if you can find passive sentences in your manuscripts that could use some reworking.

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One response »

  1. Natasha – Interesting to read about that advice from Stephen King. I didn’t realize the difference in the passive versus the active sentence as a way to ratchet up the emotional content. Thanks.Sid V. Langen

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