Voice

Voice

It’s best to use active voice in fiction writing, they tell us. Passive voice we’d best avoid.

I’ll break it down for you. Active voice keeps your reader engaged with action verbs. Passive voice puts the reader to sleep.

Back in the day, my mentor in the Navy, Senior Chief Journalist Raymond P. Lucasey*, put it this way when he found a passive voice sentence in my work.

“Why do you keep backing up into your sentences?”

He was right. Passive voice not only puts a sleeper hold on a reader, but puts the predicate first in the sentence and uses a lame verb that doesn’t direct action at all. It gets it all backward. Active voice gets your subject up front and uses a more powerful verb to direct the action.

We weren’t writing fiction, then. We were writing news releases and other material for media folks, as well as material for historical records of our command. Chief Lucasey demanded quality from me in everything we did that went out for media consumption. “What they do with it after they get it is on them,” or words to that effect were his sentiments.

A side effect of passive voice is it adds a lot unnecessary words to your writing. Cleaning up and replacing passive voice with active voice makes your writing tighter and more on point. Crisper. More intense.

Lazy

Text Clip from WIP
In this clip, Scrivener marks some of the text it thinks may be incorrect with green underscores.

But, I’m lazy and I need help. I’ve used grammar checkers since their inception back in the ’80s and I wrote reviews of them in an academic journal (Text Technology). But, that was when they were a separate, add-on application you might use with Word Perfect or Word. Then, software companies integrated the spelling and grammar checkers into the word-processing applications. Now, you have spelling and grammar checking as a menu option in the Edit drop down menu of your editor of choice. The problem with this is all you get are these colored underlines in your text where the spelling or grammar needs work.

For example, the above paragraph originally had two instances of passive voice. When I tested the text in Pages and Scrivener, they indicated nothing wrong with the paragraph. They both marked the “your” words in the previous paragraph, indicating I might substitute “you’re” (wrong). Both Pages and Scrivener have limited grammar checking capability. You can turn it on or off, but you can’t drill down into settings and configure the grammar checker for your needs. I’d love to find a reasonable grammar checker I can add to my Mac to help. Until then, I found a solution I can use until something better comes along.

I copy the text from a scene in Scrivener, paste it to a new post in my WordPress editor, which uses After the Deadline. Then I click the spelling/grammar checker. Where there are passive voice instances, or other errors, I make the corrections in Scrivener (because copy and pasting back to Scrivener makes a mess of the text).

Granted, a good grammar checker isn’t going to solve all your active/passive voice issues. You still need to know the difference between your and you’re; there, they’re, and their; to (toward) and too (also or excessive); and its (possessive) and it’s (it is contraction). It helps you take a more critical look at your writing. Is it okay to use passive voice sometimes? Well, yes. I allow characters to say things using passive voice in dialog sometimes. Not a lot, though. My rule is it cannot get in the way of the story or the action.

A may look at Grammarian Pro2 X as a grammar tool.

Keep writing.

 

*I lost track of Chief Lucasey after I separated from the Navy. I understood he retired to Arizona or Florida. Here’s to you, Chief, wherever you are.

Opening Lines

Opening Lines

BugBear BooksThe first chapter and scene of a novel begin with powerful, strong opening lines. These should grab the reader, show some potential conflict, set scene, and introduce the character. And, they should entice the reader to keep reading.

The power went out. Again.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I should have been prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

I’m working on the opening lines of the third book. The above kind of meets the criteria. Something happens. It involves the main character. It sets the scene, a little. Let’s see. Can we make this better? There is a passive voice clause we need to fix. How’s this look?

The power went out. Again.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

But, I think the scene needs some work.

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

Quiet

Ever notice when the power goes out, everything gets very quiet? Yeah. Hums quit humming, buzzes quit buzzing. And, it gets dark. That helps, I think. But, what was Amy doing when the power went out?

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman dropped her gear bag on the bed and fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

Okay, she had a gear bag, so she’s getting ready to leave. She’s in her room, evidently, and there are candles on the dresser. But, she’s frustrated. She needs to do more than just “think” the internal dialog.

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman dropped her gear bag on the bed and fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she chastised herself as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

So, with active voice and getting the character involved in an active way, I think I have a good start to the first chapter. Well, the first scene, anyway. There are twenty-four chapters to go through now, and here you get a little insight into my writing process. Not to mention getting a preview of the opening lines. Hope you are intrigued.

Keep writing.

 

Short Fiction

Short Fiction

Writing short fiction helps you develop your craft. You learn the structure of a story, how to develop a character, and how to keep a story focused. A short story is usually between 3,000 and 7,500 words. Of course, this depends on your market. Some print and online magazines have their own ideas on short story length and the lengths can vary widely.

On this blog, I’ve posted a short-short story and a short story (See Amy’s Lesson and The Gift). These are not sellable, stand-alone stories that would be picked up by a print or online magazine. I wrote them to help bridge the gap between Nasty Leftovers and the third installment of the Spirit Missions series (in progress) and provide some seasonal stories.

Sometimes, you have to write something short to help develop something longer. Those two short pieces helped me set the stage for the third novel, and helped mature the characters a little. From Sudden Mission to this third novel, the main characters Paul and Amy go from age 14 to almost 18. What happens in the third book needs older characters to make the action and events more believable.

I have other, unrelated short fiction, including one published (New Kid in Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine). Another story I think is promising, but it’s out to a market that doesn’t seem viable any more. I may withdraw and move on.

Strengths

That’s another strength of short fiction. There is a huge market for it, but it is competitive. Write your short fiction, get some beta-readers for it if that helps, and submit to appropriate markets. And, keep submitting. When you get a rejection, don’t take it personally. Look the story over, make any edits or corrections that seem right, and send it back out. One rejection is not a judgement on your story or the quality of your writing. It just means that whoever screened the submissions didn’t think your story fit their needs. Move on.

You get two things from this: 1) thick skin from dealing with rejection and criticism; 2) practice. Keep writing those short pieces. Keep submitting them. The more you write, the better you get. One day, you’ll get a response that has constructive criticism. That’s a good thing. Eventually, you’ll get an offer to publish one of those short pieces. New Kid cleared the bar, and at an award-winning small magazine. But it had been around the market for about a year and collected several rejections before acceptance.

Short fiction is hard work, though. Harder than longer work, like novels. Keep your language precise. Keep your descriptions spare. And, you have to hit the reader with a strong story line. Granted, that helps a novel, too. But, you hone the craft in the short pieces.

I know I spend more time on the three-to-five thousand words of a short story as opposed to the 60+ thousand words of a novel. I play with point of view and voice. First person seems to fit short fiction better. I rewrite the drafts more, edit between submissions, spend more time re-reading it and analyzing it. It’s all part of the process.

Go on, write that short story. Write several. It’s good practice.

Keep writing.

 

 

Life

Life sometimes takes a turn. Sometimes it gets in the way. Sometimes it just gets kinda full.

BugBear BooksBelieve me, I am not the world’s most disciplined writer. I work best under pressure of a deadline (thus my preference to use NaNoWriMo to complete first drafts). Getting through the first draft, or course, it a great thing. But, you have to go back through that draft and rewrite, edit, revise, and polish.

But, things happen. Life gets complicated. Those things that happen can drop you into a deep dark hole and it is hard to climb out. They happen and life is not ever the same. People you once counted on are no longer there. It makes it hard to focus on the first draft and get into the rewrite and revision.

Sometimes the things that happen are good, but they take a lot of your time and attention. Sometimes, they are not so good and they still take a lot of your time and attention. It is hard to pull your attention back to the work that needs doing and devote your time to it.

You can struggle to get back on task. Your heart isn’t in it. Your mind just comes up blank when you need ideas. Some call this writer’s block. Others call it depression, lack of focus or no motivation.

I’m not one to give up, though. I can wallow in my dark mind for a while. But, eventually I’ll get up, go in the kitchen, and make a fresh pot of coffee. When I return to the desk with that steaming mug of caffeine, I find new purpose. I find new inspiration. I’m motivated to get the work done.

It’s a fresh start. I’m ready to take it on.

Keep writing.

 

Get Mobile

Sometimes, you have to get mobile.

Scrivener LogoPrior to the current version of Scrivener, I would save a copy of my current project to a thumb drive (USB flash drive, the little dongle that plugs into one of the holes on your computer) and carry it along with my laptop when I traveled. This worked fine, for the most part, and I was able to continue work on a project while on the road.

With the current version of Scrivener, you have the option of using DropBox as your online storage site for a project and you can somewhat seamlessly go from the desktop to the laptop or iPad Pro and continue to work on that project. If you are working with one or more other writers on a project, this is a good option so long as your collaborators understand security and use common sense.

But–and there is always a “but”–I’m an old security curmudgeon. DropBox failed me on more than one occasion and I removed my account. I won’t go back. I have no need or wish to.

Since I’ve moved to Apple products as my primary platform, I’ve learned to use iCloud and iCloud Drive. What’s the difference? Well, from a security perspective there is a lot of difference. iCloud and iCloud Drive are tied to my AppleID. There is no intermediary cache that maintains my credentials and everything gets encrypted between my device (computer, laptop, tablet, phone) and the iCloud. But, for some reason, Scrivener wasn’t able to set the application to work from the iCloud Drive. Something about the number of files or dependencies in a project, as they told me. I can set Scrivener to maintain backups to my iCloud Drive, and I can Save As from the File menu and manually place a copy of my current project on my iCloud Drive (or the desktop, if it synchs with the iCloud Drive). Close the project or quit Scrivener on the desktop and give it some time to synch. Then, on my laptop, I can open that file and continue working.

The warning is, if you Save As, be ready to overwrite or add a draft number to the project file. If you overwrite, you might accidentally destroy some later work. If you add a draft number to the file name, you must keep that information in mind when you move to your mobile device. I prefer to verify what is on the iCloud Drive before I Save As the current project and keep the same file name across devices.

iPad Pro

The version of Scrivener for iPad Pro will not see Scrivener project files saved to iCloud Drive. They show up as file folders with no content. I worked around that once using a USB Disk tool to get the file on the iPad Pro, but the full version of Scrivener for the iPad Pro no longer supports that, it seems. I’m hoping that the folks at Literature And Latte are working to figure out how to make the iPad Pro version work with iCloud Drive.

In the meantime, I can start and work on a smaller project (say a short story) on the iPad Pro, get it to a finished state, and compile and export it to iCloud Drive in Word format (.docx format). From there I transfer the file to Pages for final revisions, formatting, etc. Pages saves the file on iCloud and I’m able to seemlessly move from the iPad Pro to the desktop or laptop.

There is always a way to work around things.

Keep writing.