Tipsday: Informal writerly learnings, Oct 24-30, 2021

This will be the last tipsday until December 7th! Yup, it’s NaNo again. So, stock up for the month and feel free to peruse past weeks’ posts as well. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but this tipsday is jam packed full of writerly goodness. Enjoy!

Kim Bullock faces a fork in the writerly road. KL Burd: “The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.” Elizabeth Huergo discusses genre and its discontents. Then, Milo Todd is losing the magic of writing: The Sweatbox. Heather Webb: Halloween is all about fear; turns out, so is publishing. Writer Unboxed

Racism and horror | Khadija Mbowe

K.M. Weiland poses six questions to help you avoid repetitive scenes. Helping Writers Become Authors

Lisa Cooper Ellison says that structure isn’t the Holy Grail you’re looking for. Jane Friedman

Vivek Hariharan shares six tips for expanding a novel into a series. Live, Write, Thrive

Princess Weekes reveals what the f—k happened behind the scenes of Justice League. Melina Pendulum

Kris Maze offers a worry-free approach to double down on your writing goals. Then, Laurie Schnebly Campbell asks, how deep should you go into your POV? Kathleen Baldwin makes the case for “was” and the much maligned passive voice. Writers in the Storm

Shaelin explains how to write a horror novel. Reedsy

Then she follows up with the best and worst horror tropes. Reedsy

Sue Coletta: what are pinch points and where do they go? Then, Colleen M. Story explains how to tell if you’ve found the best book marketing niche. Lisa Hall-Wilson lists five ways trauma makes your character an unreliable narrator. Writers Helping Writers

Kris Hill is creating characters using collaborative storytelling. Then, Manuela Williams explains how to organize a collection of poetry. Gabriela Pereira interviews Debbie Macomber about writing and publishing a Christmas novel. Then, Alison Stine explains how to write a cli-fi novel. Sarah Van Arsdale shares five ways to resist the inexorable forces pulling you from your writing. DIY MFA

On her own channel, Shaelin shares 20 NaNoWriMo tips. Shaelin Writes

Chuck Wendig reviews the worldbuilding in Villeneuve’s Dune. Emmie Mears shares five things she learned building a writing career the wrong way. Terribleminds

Chris Winkle lists five important ways episodic stories are different. Then, Oren Ahskenazi analyzes To Sleep in a Sea of Stars: how Paolini undercooked his setting. Mythcreants

Princess Weekes shares everything you didn’t know about the father of science fiction. It’s Lit | PBS Storied

Patricia A. Jackson shares a pantser’s tale: follow the white rabbit. Fiction University

Emily Zarka presents the werewolf’s modern metamorphosis. Monstrum | PBS Storied

Kristen Lamb explains how horror can improve your writing in any genre.

Guy Kawasaki interviews Seth Godin: marketing god, blogger, and author. The Remarkable People Podcast

“Queerbaiting” is a tricky term. Don’t abuse it. The Take

Alan Garner: “You don’t want to have a brilliant idea for a novel at the age of 87.” The Guardian

Ena Alvarado reveals the science and slavery in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. JSTOR Daily

Hanna Flint says that Dune is an accomplished escape into the realm of cinematic Arab appropriation. The New Arab

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you found something to support your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well and stay safe!

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, April 12-18, 2020

I hope everyone is staying safe and keeping well. Here’s your weekly dose of informal writerly learnings to help fill some of your time (I know you’re all doing what you can to keep yourselves occupied).

Helen J. Darling says that if you’re finding it hard to write, try keeping a pandemic journal. Sara Farmer considers fiction from Daphne du Maurier to Megan Abbott: the gothic horror of womanhood. Later in the week, Gabriela Pereira interviews Jeff Garvin about dismantling the stigma of mental illness. DIY MFA

Lori Freeland helps you understand point of view: P-O-What? Writers in the Storm

K.M. Weiland explains how to get some writing done: discipline vs. enthusiasm. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jim Dempsey offers a simple guide to symbolism in stories. Kathleen McCleary wants you to fuel your writing with feeling. Barbara Linn Probst shares five ways to light the spark of a novel. Writer Unboxed

Sacha Black wants you to breathe life into your prose with the sense of touch. Writers Helping Writers

Specificity and concrete language. Shaelin Writes

Susan DeFreitas shares part three of her developing a writing practice series: important.  Then, Mathina Calliope reveals the easy-to-fix tense problem that might be tripping up your readers. Jane Friedman

Jami Gold explains the difference between passive and active voice: was and not was. Later in the week, she wonders if pandemic anxiety is forcing everyone to count their spoons.

Chris Winkle breaks down act 3 of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Then, Oren Ashkenazi looks at six magic systems that need stricter limits. Mythcreants

Writing fight scenes. Hello, Future Me

Chuck Wendig writes about being broken in half but wanting to be whole. Terribleminds

Steve Toase confronts the default: portraying homelessness in fantasy and science fiction.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you take away something that will support your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, stay safe and well, my writerly friends.


Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, July 28-Aug 3, 2019

And here we are in August! It’s time to change direction and indulge in some informal writerly learnings.

Kathryn Craft: where a writer’s story begins. Laurie Schnebly Campbell asks, where, when, why? Writers in the Storm

K.M. Weiland helps you learn five types of character arc at a glance: the two heroic arcs, part 1 of 2. Helping Writers Become Authors

William R. Leibowitz delves into the challenges of believability in writing science fiction. C. S. Lakin

Allison Winn Scotch is writing in the chaos. Meanwhile, Cathy Yardly is addressing anxiety. Writer Unboxed

How to use and eliminate passive voice. Reedsy

Nathan Bransford explains what it costs to self-publish a book.

Sara Letourneau is identifying themes in poetry. Jeanette the Writer extolls the power of punctuation.  DIY MFA

Jami Gold: do we know what we’re capable of?

Peter Gelfan explains how to craft engaging dialogue exchanges. Writers Helping Writers

How to write a fight scene. Reedsy

Angela Ackerman is depicting characters held back by fear. Then, Oren Ashkenazi teaches authorial endorsement 101. Mythcreants

Robert Lee Brewer explains the difference between a lot and allot (and that alot is NOT a word!). Writer’s Digest

Cecelia Watson recounts the birth of the semi-colon. The Paris Review

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you found something helpful.

Until Thursday, be well, my writerly friends!


Passive voice avoidance strategies

A friend asked me if I had any posts about passive voice. Realizing that I didn’t, I answered her question and then put the post on my task list.

Interestingly enough, a day later, I was reading Victoria Mixon’s The Art & Craft of Fiction (yes, I read the second one first—sue me, or rather, don’t) and she wrote about the very topic 🙂

Before we get going, I just want to say that I meant to have this post up yesterday, but life intervened. A visit from some friends from out of town necessitated the cleaning of the house and shovelling of the drive. A sick mother required groceries. Not wanting to cook after cleaning, Phil and I went out to supper. And so the day disappeared. I got most of the post written yesterday, but not all of it.

Today, I need to get this post up, compile my curation posts for the week, and then I have to work some on the course I’m going to be facilitating at the beginning of February, return to revising IoS, and write a few more words in Marushka.

Nothing like having ambitious plans for what should be a day of rest 😉

Let’s start with passive sentence structure

Think of a relatively simple sentence.

The dog licked my ice cream.

Most likely, you thought of a sentence with a straightforward structure, as I did: Subject (noun) and predicate (verb and possibly object, or receiver of the action depicted by the verb).

Here is the same sentence written with a passive structure:

My ice cream was licked by the dog.

See what I did there?

A passive sentence switches the positions of the subject and object in the sentence and so the verb also has to change, generally, we have a “to be” verb and by. That’s how you recognize passive sentence structure: “to be” plus by.

Now, you may be thinking: I don’t write like that. I don’t try to write that way. Is this really an issue?

Well, some people want to sound more educated and awkward sentence structure sounds smart. Counterintuitive, but it’s kind of what we’ve been taught.

Academic texts and books from past centuries tend to use English that is a little different from what we speak and write commonly today. It sounds strange, awkward, but these writers are held up as authorities, paragons, or otherwise people-who-know-how-to-write.

So we learn (unconsciously) that strange or awkward means better. That’s where the tendency to passive structure can come from.

Also, in the work world, business writing may utilize passive structure to avoid sounding accusatory, or to distance the writer from an unpopular policy that the writer may not agree with but must nonetheless enforce.

You have to be critical about your thought process around phrasing. Both academic texts and classic literature are written in the way they are because they are serving a specific purpose, or because language changes over time. Business writing is all about rhetoric, purpose, and audience.

Using passive structure may have been acceptable at the time a particular book was written, and it may be required in academic or business contexts. It’s not wrong. It’s just not something you should do in the short story or novel you write today.

In fiction, you want to effectively simulate the way people speak.

An extension of passive structure included in “passive voice”

Passive structure is more clearly displayed in a sentence that has a predicate including an object. That’s where you see the “to be” plus by tell.

What if you don’t have an object in your sentence?

The dog ran.

Passive version:

The dog was running.

This is where you get the prohibition against “to be” verbs or progressive verb forms (-ing verbs) in general.

If you excise all “to be” verbs from your writing, you will find that you have a HUGE problem. Sometimes you need to use them.

With regard to progressive verb forms, don’t use them if a simpler version of the sentence can be written instead.

Zero words

Also roped into passive voice by some editors are words like “only” or “just,” or phrases like “began to,” “started to,” or “tried to.”

In general, “only” and “just” are called zero words. They can be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence from which they’ve been removed. Try a simple Find exercise to remove these words from your text. It will be rare that you absolutely must have either of those two words.

The other group of phrases are symptoms of what I like to call the Yoda fallacy. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda says to Luke, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Like “just” and “only”, “tried to,” “started to,” or “began to” can often, though not all the time, be removed without changing the essential meaning of your sentence.

These words sap the energy from your sentences.

Other verb forms and contractions

If you write a passage describing past events, a flashback, chunk of backstory, or to convey essential events that don’t need the full scene treatment, you have to use the pluperfect verb form.

I had run.

Like the deadly “to be” verbs, the “had” of the pluperfect is vilified. Some people will tell you to eliminate every last one of them.

The thing is, they do serve a purpose, that of indicating that the events you write about using that verb form occurred in the past. This is especially important if you write in the past tense to begin with.

The solution? Contract those pluperfect hads.

I’d run.

It makes the “had” fade into the background. It sounds more natural when read silently in the head, too.

The same thing applies to the conditional verb forms.

Thus, “I would run” becomes “I’d run,” and “I would have run” becomes “I’d have run.”

People speak in contractions. It’s how we roll.

Basically, you squish more zero words out of your sentences.

What it comes down to

  • If you stick to a simple sentence structure where the subject comes first and is closely followed by its verb, you’ll be in good shape.
  • Avoid progressive verb forms (“to be” plus –ing).
  • Delete zero words.
  • Do or do not. There is no try (begin, or start).
  • Contract what makes sense to contract.

When editing, if you read your text out loud, you’ll be able to hear all of the above, potentially pacifying problems.

I really enjoyed writing this post. If you have any questions you’d like answered, please let me know. I’ll be happy to answer in post form 🙂

Have a good “end” everybody. Most of the weekend has already passed 😦

See you on Tipsday!