Watch Your Tense and Don’t Be Passive or Reactionary in Your Writing

passive voice

Source: Google Images/yoast.com

This week’s post topic came about after (once again) reading grammatically-challenged articles online. I automatically proofread everything these days – every article, book or online missive. I can’t help myself (thanks a lot, Catholic grammar school nuns). What I find all too often are: 1) multiple tenses in one sentence (make up your mind); 2) passive voice (MS Word or Ginger Software can help with this); and 3) a reactionary style of writing, where the protagonist is responding to something or someone instead of taking action.

your tense must make sense!

No matter what you’re writing (blog, book, article, etc.), it’s important to maintain the correct tense in each sentence and avoid the passive voice. FYI – each tense has its own passive voice, created by using a form of the auxiliary verb, to be (am, is, was, are, were, will be, etc.).

In a recent blog post from The Book Designer, I found this very mistake at the top of the article:

“One way to do this is by learning what passive voice is, how to find it, and eradicating it from your writing.”

I discovered the errors the first time I read it. Do you see them? Read it again, with a bit of change:

One way to do this is by learning to learn what passive voice is, how to find it, and how to eradicate eradicating it from your writing.

The author also began the sentence with “one way” and proceeded to list three ways (in reference to grabbing the reader’s attention). This is how I would write the sentence, with correct tense and active subject/verb:

“It’s important to learn what passive voice is so you can find it in your writing and eradicate it.”

Boom.

Don’t Be Passive, Be Active!

Passive voice in sentences is when the subjects (protagonist, antagonist, etc.) are acted upon by the verbs instead of the other way around. Active writing is when the subjects are proactive, not reactive. Active writing makes for stronger, more interesting characters and an entertaining read.

One example of passive vs. active writing:

Passive: My laptop was stolen.

Active: Someone stole my laptop.

Once you learn the difference between active and passive writing, you’ll find it easy to maintain active sentences (unless passive is necessary in a character’s dialogue). Ginger software, for example, can teach you how to avoid the passive voice and in the process you’ll become a better writer.

Better for you, better for your readers.

#writing #fiction #nonfiction #grammar #gingersoftware 

One Story, Two Story, Three!

writing graphic

As is usual, I’ve spent part of this afternoon trying to figure out the topic for my next blog post. Needing inspiration, I checked my professional email for ideas because I often send myself links to interesting and/or informative articles from Writers Digest and other literary sources.

Bingo.

Halfway down my professional email list is a link to an article on the art of writing spin-offs. It’s an informative article on how to get more than one angle/story from a particular topic. It’s a way to maximize the information you gather on a story and leads you to other avenues, thereby creating multiple stories and more income.

Of course, you submit these spin-offs to different magazines, depending on the angle of the story. Be careful not overlap the information; keep the angles separate and unique. Make sure to pitch to noncompeting publications. 

“Travel writers often write about the same location from different perspectives. Freelancer Valentina Valentini wrote about The Gravediggers Pub in Dublin for BBC Travel. She traced the history of the pub and its owners, steering clear of the ghost stories associated with it. Later, she pitched the haunted history to Atlas Obscura.”

Dinsha Sachan, The Art of Spin-Offs: Freelance Article Ideas at Writers Digest

This reminds me of two of my previous posts: 1) Bad Choices = Good Stories (if you missed it, read here) written back in 2017, and 2) A Writing Life (On the Road) in 2016 (read here). Travel pieces, for example, can offer a multitude of angles because so many historical places are popular with travelers. You can focus on eco-tourism in one article for a travel magazine; historical context in another article for an historical magazine; food and culture in a foodie magazine. With a little imagination, you can create multiple stories from that one topic and increase your freelance income.

“Sometimes a news piece can sow the seeds for a broader trends feature.” Dinsha Sachan

“One story often leads entirely to another; both are different, and yet intricately linked.” Kamala Thiagarajan, an India-based freelance journalist

Researching a topic will often provide ample opportunities to explore different angles. Even if one avenue seems to go nowhere, don’t be afraid to explore it. You never know where it might lead. Perhaps to that writing life on the road, after all.

Like, Um, Well, You Know…Seriously, To Be Fair…

crutch words1

Source: Google Images

Grammar Still Rules

Grammar rules still apply to your writing and speaking and always will. Especially if you want to keep readers and listeners engaged.

Today I’m writing about a few of my pet peeves that have become far too prevalent in today’s writing and speaking. I’m talking about crutch words and fillers: like, well, you know, ah, um, uh, etc. 

My biggest issue with these overused words and space fillers is that they make the writer/speaker sound less intelligent, less able to think or speak quickly or clearly. Which equates to poor writing and speaking skills. And poor communication skills take away one’s credibility, which means people won’t read your books or listen to what you say. Is this how you want the world of readers and listeners to perceive you? 

Ditch the Crutches

While some crutch words and fillers are acceptable in written dialogue, they should be left out of interviews and other professional conversations. If you listen to podcasts, you know what I’m talking about; fillers and crutches take up way more space in a conversation. Listen to an interview, maybe even record it to your computer. Then edit out the fillers and crutches and listen to what remains – the actual conversation sounds quite different when it’s cleaned up. It’s more direct and to the point and it’s the same with writing. Remove the fillers and crutches (except when necessary in character dialogue) and you’ll find the reading succinct and clear. And credible.

“A” Interesting Peeve

Another of my pet peeves of late is the incorrect use of ‘a’ and ‘an.’ Far too often, even on the evening national news, I hear professionals using ‘a’ where ‘an’ is required.

Here’s the rule: if the word begins with a vowel or a consonant with a vowel sound like the h in hour or in abbreviations/acronyms such as MBA, use an. If the word begins with a consonant or consonant sound as in book or PTA, use a. I’m annoyed every time I hear phrases like “a airplane” or “a interested party” because the speakers come off as not very bright or particularly attentive to their grammar. Or they have lazy copyeditors!

Modify This

The next peeve on my list (which I swear grows with age) is the overuse and incorrect use of what are called vague modifiers. Vague modifiers are also crutch words and fillers and don’t belong in good writing or clear speeches: A lot, kind of, perhaps, truly, somewhat, quite, seemingly, suddenly, rather, fairly, etc.. There are more, but you get the idea. How often do you use these in your writing/speaking? Are you even conscious of whether you use these or not? Here is a link to a funny article on crutch words that “literally” made me laugh out loud.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of falling prey to the occasional crutch and filler. However, I have become more conscious of my spoken words as a result of doing a podcast last year. That, in turn, has made me more aware of written words and their impact.

Those Catholic grammar school nuns beat good English grammar into me and my classmates – quite literally, actually. To this day, I can’t finish a project and ‘turn it in’ (publish) unless it’s perfect.

Seriously. 😉

#grammarrules #thewritinglife #communicationskills #writeagoodstory #podcasting #Englishgrammar