On Making My Sentences Better

December 13, 2017

 

When I first started writing, I spent a lot of time reading blog posts on craft. One of the tips that came up over and over again regarded passive voice. I understood it in theory, but I had a difficult time picking it out in my own writing. Now that I've gone through the editing process on my first book, I have found that I can more easily find these sentences and fix them. 

 

But what is passive voice? Here is the short of it. When writing in passive voice, the subject is acted upon. A great definition is below from The Writing Center. They say it so much better than I could ever hope to express.

 

"A passive construction occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. That is, whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence."

 

"Look for a form of “to be” (is, are, am , was, were, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a past participle. (The past participle is a form of the verb that typically, but not always, ends in “-ed.” Here’s a sure-fire formula for identifying the passive voice:form of “to be” + past participle = passive voice"

 

When I'm trying to spot passive voice in my own writing, I look for sentences that convey an action to the reader as if they were a bystander, rather than a part of the story. 

 

Horrible example here:

 

The girl was bitten by the snake. (Passive Voice)

The snake bit the girl. (Active Voice)

 

See how the passive sentence is too wordy and leaves little to the imagination. The active sentence keeps the reader engaged, and often creates images in the reader's mind beyond what is written. When reading the active voice, did you imagine her hand pulling away from the snake quickly? Did you imagine her yelp of surprise?

 

Need a better breakdown? Check out this awesome article on passive and active voice. It has tons of examples and even breaks the sentences down to subjects and verbs so that you get a greater understanding of this concept.

 

Along with eliminating passive voice, I try to take out all the unnecessary words in my writing. Doing this makes the sentences tighter, moves the plot faster, and keeps the reader from getting lost in over expressive prose.

 

During my latest edit of my current manuscript, I found these fabulously wordy sentences that needed a bit of clean up. Check them out:

 

"The basin was already filled with warm, soapy water, and after scraping the remnants of food into the trash, I began to rinse the plates."

 

A couple of extras in here. Let's pull them out right quick so you can see what I mean about wordy writing and passive voice.

 

"The basin was already filled with warm, soapy water, and after scraping the remnants of food into the trash, I began to rinse the plates."

 

'Already' is a needless word. I use it a lot. Along with finally, just, and that. Basically, they are words that you can remove completely and not lose the meaning/construct of the sentence. Case in point: If the basin was filled with water, then it is obvious it was 'already' filled. See? Needless.

 

'Began to rinse'-- Slows down the action. Let's see if we can make this more active, shall we? 

 

Check out the revised sentence:

 

"The basin was filled with warm, soapy water, and after scraping the remnants of food into the trash, I rinsed the plates."

 

Tighter.

 

Here's another:

 

"Tuck still hadn’t moved, but since I’d already sort of addressed the elephant in the room, I figured now was as good of a time as any to try and understand what had happened eighteen years ago on the top of Red Blood Hill. To finally understand the enigma that was my mother."

 

Let's first pull out the words that clog up the flow.

 

"Tuck still hadn’t moved, but since I’d already sort of addressed the elephant in the room, I figured now was as good of a time as any to try and understand what had happened eighteen years ago on the top of Red Blood Hill. To finally understand the enigma that was my mother."

 

53 words. Now, let's do a quick revision:

 

"Tuck hadn't moved, but since I'd already addressed the elephant in the room, I figured now was a good time to ask about what had happened eighteen years ago on the top of Red Blood Hill. Maybe then I would understand the enigma that was my mother."

 

47 words. That's okay, but it can be better:

 

"Tuck hadn't moved, but the elephant in the room had been addressed. Now was a good time to find out what happened that fateful night on the top of Red Blood Hill. Maybe then I would understand the enigma that was my mother.

 

43 words. It's tighter, more concise and keeps the action flowing.

 

Now I need to repeat this step a billion more times over the course of this 95,000 word manuscript!

 

Happy editing, friends!

 

Amy

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© 2017 by Amy Murray