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Passive/Telling Words and How to Find and Eliminate Them in Your Manuscript
By Rachel Hert

Have you ever talked with an agent or editor and asked them about passive voice only to have them tell you they know it when they see it?

You probably know passive voice when you see it as well, even if you don't realize what you're looking at. All you have to do is pick up a book and look at a scene. Those stories that suck you in and keep you reading likely use active voice. When reading passive voice it is much easier to become confused or just plain bored.

So how do you quantify passive voice?

Well to start with you have to know that was and have are not always passive (but often they are included in passive sentences so watch for them).

A passive construction occurs when you place the action of a sentence where the subject would normally be. Such as: The fish was caught by the seagull.

In this sentence the seagull is the one performing the action, but you don't realize that until you reach the end of the sentence. To make this sentence active you just have to rearrange the word order.

The seagull caught the fish.

When looking through your own work watch for by and was in the same sentence. It's likely passive.

Often in passive sentences the actor isn't indicated at all.

Such as:

Mistakes were made.

A few gallons of oil may have been dumped into the sea.

Of course this little bit only gives you a clue how to find passive constructions. There are also words that when used almost always make the sentence, paragraph, or passage Tell instead of Show. This contributes to the VOICE that agents or editors see but can't quite quantify because they aren't true constructions of a passive sentence. These words rob the sentence of clarity or don't give enough of an idea of what is going on. Either way revision will make the story a hundred times better.

Here's a short list that if you train you eye to look for you will find areas in your manuscript where it can be improved, whether it needs more description or has passive voice.

  • At that point
  • Began to
  • Beginning to
  • Because
  • Could
  • knew (Thankfully this one can normally just be deleted without causing any problems with the sentence)
  • She/he heard
  • She/he felt
  • She/he watched
  • She/he could feel
  • Remembered
  • Seemed to
  • Feel
  • felt
  • Have been
  • Had gone
  • Had
  • In a moment
  • Suddenly
  • Saw
  • Was (You will never get rid of this one completely, nor should you, but it can be an indicator of where more description is needed)
  • Were
  • Sequence words such as first, second, finally, next, then(great blog post about these at http://crystalcollier.blogspot.com/2012/11/those-evil-sequence-words.html
  • Time words - for a moment, for a second, a moment later, (These are often overused. Using them once in a while is fine, but most of the time they aren't needed and if you can figure out how to write a sentence without them it normally makes for a better sentence.)
  • The (This word is one of those that is nearly invisible, but in the parts where it can be deleted it generally makes the sentence more active and cuts down on word count)
  • Directionals - ahead, behind, to the left, to the right (It would be better to describe the scene)
  • Got - most of the time a more descriptive word is better used in place of this one. They create a stronger picture in the reader's mind.

There are many more words that could be included in this list, but these are the most common ones I have found. Search them out and rewrite the sentence with more description.

Let me give an example:

She watched the road just ahead for a moment, searching for the shadow that had crossed a moment before.

Of course this is just a single sentence but let's just highlight the different parts that could be made a lot stronger.

Kira watched the road just ahead for a moment, searching for the shadow that had crossed a moment before.

Now let's try to give this a little more description and take out some of these words (sometimes several sentences are needed).

A shadow flitted over the path. Kira stiffened, scanning the tree line next to the road.

See the difference? More ACTION words were used and the scene was given more description which makes it a thousand times easier for the reader to picture.

Learn to use action words and eliminate the passive/telling words and your manuscript will thank you as will your reader.

If you've written it, I can help make it better, whether it's to clean up the grammar/syntax, spice it up, or make sure that you and your writing are presented as professionally as possible.

To find out more on Editing Services visit http://www.fantasyediting.com

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Rachel_Hert




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