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.

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.

 

What You Know

What You Know

Most have heard this advice about writing: Write what you know.

For new writers, especially younger ones, this is a confusing bit of advice. You want to write a mystery novel involving a murder set in Rome. Your mind is full of the plugs you’ll have: “International intrigue!” “Globe-trotting Sleuth!” But, then you heard someone say you should write what you know. CRASH! BURN! You’ve never been to Rome. You’ve never committed a murder. You have no experience in crime detection and investigation. Huh?

Here’s the truth. “Write what you know,” is a blow-off line. Incomplete. Inaccurate. It’s the advice you get from someone who just wants to cut you off at the knees. Why? Because you know a lot more than you think. Or–well–you will know a lot more. Follow me on this.

Research.

SettingOkay, you haven’t been to Rome. Big deal. Maps, Google, your browser, the library, bookstores, and other resources can get you all the information you need to create a setting sketch and write believable scenes set in Rome. Some writers use those travel guides they find in bookstores that provide details on restaurants, sights, events, and customs of a place like Rome or other cities.

The US State Department has information online for potential travelers for almost every destination on the planet. Here’s the link to information on the Holy See (Vatican City) in Rome. It also provides access to the CIA World Factbook for further information on the Holy See. If you want in-depth information, the State Department and the CIA are great resources. They are free. I don’t know if you can get access outside the US.

I used Google Maps and Street View as I worked through settings in Sudden Mission. I’d track where my characters would be on Google Maps, then drop down to Street View to see what they would see as they went down a specific street or highway. Near St. Louis, MO,  is a town named Edwardsville, IL. I know nothing about this town. I studied the maps carefully, looking for a route around St. Louis and across the Mississippi River. Edwardsville was a good find. I had my characters going up a residential street there just as I dumped a plague of frogs on them.

This image on the right is that street in Edwardsville, IL. This kind of tool makes it possible to describe a place accurately and realistically. I just added frogs. I used the scene to describe what happened in the novel and it added realism and authenticity. You’d never know I’ve never been to Edwardsville. Ever.

I wrote Sudden Mission in 2012, so I had to use Google Maps with Adobe Flash (Bad JuJu) installed on my system. When I didn’t need it any more, I took Flash off. Fortunately, Flash is no longer required. Most browsers support the protocols to render Street View correctly.

Setting Sketch and Research Section

The setting sketch provided in Scrivener’s templates can contain a lot of details you gather from the above resources.

In the research section of your project binder, you can add folders and documents, then cut and paste entire web pages or just links and references. This is handy. You can refer back to the items in your research section to verify details or facts. Keep links related to your work in progress from the US State Department and CIA World Factbook in folders here. Don’t be afraid to use the Factbook. It’s paid for by the US taxpayer and published for your benefit. As for Google Maps, take screen shots of your key places and save them in your research section.

Now, as for the murder. Do some research on crime scene investigation (not by watching TV). You want to avoid the CSI Effect. Research the law, police procedures, crime scene and evidence collection, evidentiary processes, custody of evidence, and anything else relevant. Since you set your crime in Rome, you’ll also want to check out law enforcement cooperation and investigation across international boundaries. Much of this information is found online with some searching. Here’s a Wikipedia link to get you started.

When you find something, dump the link, page, information into a document in your research section.

The key to remember is that nothing is ever as simple or straightforward as it might at first seem.

Oh fun, you say.

Keep writing.

 

 

Templates

Templates

I mentioned last week that Scrivener has templates for characters and settings to help you keep track of details.

Selecting a projectWhen you set up your project you choose the kind of project it will be. In this image I selected Fiction, and i have the choice of Scrivener setting up a n0vel, a novel with parts, or a short story. When I select novel, Scrivener sets up the basic format for manuscript and paperback layouts, as well as the front matter (title pages, cover, copyright). It even sets up a folder for Novel Projectresearch, where you can keep notes, references, and other material you will need as you go along. In the second image, I show the chapters and a few scenes and how to set up the work area. Here, I used the structure of the chapter/scene in the layout to create my basic outline. Each scene has a brief description of what would happen at that point.

At the bottom of the column on the left, there are templates for the character sketch and setting sketch. These are basic sketches and designed to give you a place to keep details of character and setting. Since my first two novels are not historical, I didn’t need Charactersextensive setting sketches. For the second novel, I used a lot of online resources, maps and building plans for the Washington, DC, locations.

Character, though, was something I spent more time developing. The sketch Scrivener provided was a great start to fleshing out my characters. I’ve since figured out a more dynamic method of character development, but I still use the sketches in Scrivener to keep track of details. That’s important as you go from one book to another and carry forward characters.

SettingAs mentioned, I didn’t make extensive use of the setting sketch. However, it is a good outline to keep handy if you’re working in a specific, rich, and detailed setting, or more than one setting. I spent more time on Google, Google Maps, satellite images, and other resources and would make my description before moving on. In Sudden Mission, that worked best because I didn’t intend for the characters to return to those sites later. Not practical filling out a dozen or more setting sketches for one time use.

However, in Nasty Leftovers, I did have my characters spend a lot of time in Washington, DC. I probably should have used setting sketches. They could have helped clear up some confusion in the editing process. Still, the imagery of an empty, toxic, DC was not hard to describe.

In book number 3 of this series, I’m pretty much laying waste to North Carolina. I just need to remember which bridges we’re blowing up. Also, in this series, I created this community vaguely on the east side of Raleigh, NC. I’m purposely trying to keep it vague and unidentifiable. I’m not sure why, but if I’m cornered, I’ll probably come up with something.

Keep writing.

 

 

 

Scrivener

Scrivener

Scrivener LogoI use Scrivener for all my writing.

My first experience with Scrivener was back in 2012, when I was getting ready to NaNoWriMo my first novel, Sudden Mission. I had recently moved from Windows to Mac and needed a solid writing tool. I didn’t want to spend the cash to get Microsoft Office for the Mac and I did just retire from more than 20 years of supporting, teaching, and hating MS Word. Yes, I hate MS Word. Sorry.

I digress. So, I’ll digress a bit more.

You see, I started playing around with word processors back in the early 1980’s. I had access at the time to a KayPro CP/M machine and learned to use Perfect Writer and WordStar. When I got my KayPro, I became an expert on WordStar, using the WordStar codes, and hacking the application to make it perform better. Back then, there were no spelling or grammar checkers, until some creative types figured out how to add those tools to  WordStar.

WordStar

That was just about the time I moved to a DOS-based Personal Computer (PC). WordStar tried to hang on but the company died. Then, WordPerfect showed up. A company out of Utah created it and it was a very decent word processor. Add-on grammar and spelling checkers started to show up in droves. I messed with a bunch of them and learned a lot in the process.

Then Microsoft created Word. By this point, many places had invested a lot of time and money into WordPerfect and scripting processes in that application. Legal shops led the charge here. I learned to script in WordPefect and created some pretty impressive tools this way. But, Microsoft owned the operating system (DOS at the time). Keep in mind that at this time, a hard drive was not a standard item on PCs. Most PCs in offices were dual floppy disk. So, you booted your PC and ran your programs with the disk in the A: drive, and saved you work on the B: drive floppy. WordPerfect did this for a couple of years when Word showed up. I rarely had to support anyone who lost all their work using WordPerfect. When Word showed up, disasters happened. Word would, arbitrarily hang or quit in the middle of a session. All the work to that point would be gone. Even, in some early versions and when someone saved often (that was like a six-keystroke operation then), the save file on the B: floppy would disappear. Microsoft did nothing about this issue until after about version 4.0.

Word

Somehow, Word began to dominate business word processing. Not because it was the best. WordPerfect was a better, more capable word processor. Then Windows showed up. Now, Microsoft owned Windows and Office. So, they made sure that all the support routines for Office products loaded into memory in Windows, so it seemed that Word and its fellow programs ran faster. But, Windows was slower because of it. Without office, Windows ran great and WordPerfect ran great. There were still times when Word would die in the middle of your work and your file would go away and that was a risk until Windows 95 and WordPerfect was seeing its last days.

We got networked and WordPerfect got sold to a couple different companies and then died out. So, now we have MS Office with Word as the sole word processor. Others tried to take the thunder, but failed. I converted most of my training and scripting processes to Word and that worked until a new version of Word came out and I had to change everything again. Nothing in Word ever seemed to stay put. In one version, Microsoft had the mail merge function flawless. In the next, it was a complete disaster. Things got moved around and much of the update training I did focused on showing users where Microsoft hid their favorite functions.

And, it never got better. For me, anyway.

Move to Mac

When I moved to the Mac after I retired, things changed for me. I used Pages. Gosh, is a very nice little word processor. A lot like the old Word Perfect, but with more page layout capability. I use Pages for letters and short documents. But, getting a large, complex document done in Pages wasn’t really practical. So, I went looking.

Scrivener was the best $50 I ever spent. I can import old projects into it and (with a little preparation) it will break it into chapters, scenes, and have it ready for work. For a new project, it makes me structure it and work in scenes. I really like this. When I want to work on a specific part of a project, I just go to that part. The work on that part does not affect the rest of the project. I can move things around. And best of all, I can compile the resulting project into a Word document or a PDF, or compile for upload to Kindle, Kobo, Nook, or print on demand. Compiling, especially for e-book or print publication, is probably the most complex part of using Scrivener. I spent days on Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers getting things just right.

Editing and Revisions

After you complete the first draft, Scrivener helps with spelling and grammar, if you want. But I find Scrivener makes the revision and editing process better because you don’t have to wade through the entire document to find a certain scene. You select the scene you want to work in and go for it. If you use the synopsis feature, you can quickly find a scene by checking the brief description in the synopsis.

Novel templates for Scrivener have reformatted scene and character sketch templates you can use. I find the character sketches are handy when I need to check my notes on a character to make sure he/she is behaving consistent to my description. The novel templates also automatically set up the front matter, cover and other folders so all you need to do is enter the information.

Other templates pre-format for short story/fiction, or even academic research papers. I wish I had Scrivener when I was in college.

So, now I use Scrivener for just about all my writing, except maybe a letter or something like that. It was well worth the time to learn and well worth the price. If you are serious about writing, you should check it out.

Keep writing.