Being a Better Writer: Active and Passive Voice

All right! Request time! Today’s topic came from in a message from a reader, who expressed concern that some of their works had quite a bit of passive voice over active voice, and wanted to change that. So they were hoping I could offer a little advice on the matter.

I can, though it might not be the advice they expect.

Right, first of all (we’re diving right into this), let’s talk a little bit about what passive and active voice are, since this one seems to confuse a lot of people. In actuality, passive versus active is based on a pretty simple concept: Where is the subject of the sentence? If it comes first, establishing the subject (and, to an extent, some context), then the sentence is active. If it comes second, after an action or event, then the sentence is passive.

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Being a Better Writer: Perspectives

Perspective. It’s important.

I’ll be honest, part of me right now simply wants to link that wonderful scene from Pixar’s Ratatouille wherein Anton Ego sits down for a meal and orders “perspective.” Mostly just because it’s a fun scene, and Anton is such a fun character. I mean, his nickname is “The Grim Eater,” what’s not to love about that?

But ultimately, we’re talking about a different type of perspective today. Well, different types, to be more specific. Today’s matter comes as consequence of a number of online posts in writer’s groups and the like I’ve seen where younger writers inquire after differences in perspective (some of them not even knowing much more other than that the different types exist) and what those perspectives are used best for. Along with that, I’ve seen misconceptions (such as there is a “magic-bullet” perspective for certain genre’s) and confusion (such as responses that only provide half answers).

So today? I’m diving into perspectives. Nothing fancy, we’re simply going to look at each perspective type and talk about it. What makes it tick, how it’s used, where you might have seen it or run across it before … the works.

Like I said, nothing fancy. Let’s get to it!

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Are you the gatekeeper?

Mad Genius Club

Recently, I’ve seen a spate of articles and comments on various social media sites extolling the necessity of being traditionally published before you venture into the world of indie publishing. After all, these posts contend, how can you tell if you really are good enough if you don’t first make it through the gatekeepers of a few publishing houses that have been controlling the way things have been done for decades? If you can’t find yourself an agent and can’t get yourself a traditional publishing contract then you simply need to accept the fact that you aren’t good enough to be a writer and you shouldn’t be filling up the digital shelves with what can only be classified as dreck. Oh, these same folks will admit there might be an exception or two to this but they are so few and far between as to be non-existent.

Well, to those…

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Unusual Events’ Alpha Draft is Done!

Huzzah! I, minutes ago, just put the finishing touches on the last of Unusual Event‘s stories. Next, editing and Alpha Reading begins!

But I figured I’d share a few stats for those who are curious about the collection. And also so I can look over what I wrote and accomplished. I started working on Unusual Events on May 28th of this year, and finished tonight—August 8th—so it took just over two months to write. Discounting weekends and a few break days for holidays and whatnot, it took me about … 45 days, give or take a few. Not bad, but a little slower than I would have liked. To be fair, however, writing “short” stories I did have to radically twist my brain to different topics about once a week or more, jumping from universe to universe and coming up with plot after plot. And to be honest, I’m done with “short” stories for a while. I’m ready to do an epic again! Shadow of an Empire, here I come … once editing is done and these are published, that is.

So, what’s the end result? Well, Unusual Events as of now has ten stories. I’m likely to ask the alpha readers what the worst one is, and cut it, which would leave the collection with nine stories, but we’ll see what they say. In any case, the stories (as of this moment) are as follows.


Unusual Universe:

  • The Graveyard—822 words. The shortest of the set, and the only story that was not actually written for it. This was written by me during my last year of college, and was the initial appearance and genesis of Jacob Rocke. I’ll be touching it up, but it’s mostly there for a fun bonus.
  • A Miner Haunting—10,199 words. The newest Jacob Rocke story.
  • Flash Point—22,084 words. Moving to a new town and a new school  where you’re the new kid sucks. But it can be worse, and when strange things start happening around Mark, it is.
  • Kitchen Creature—8,924 words. Ever wonder what happened to the food you dropped on your college apartment’s floor?
  • Monthly Retreat—13,323 words. Life can throw unexpected curve-balls at you. Alma’s newest might be more than she can handle. Even if it only comes once a month.

Shadow of an Empire Universe (Official Name Undecided)

  • Ripper—13,516 words. A serial killer who can alter sound stalks her next target.

Alaska (Written Mostly by Request. Now People Can Stop Bothering Me About It.)

  • Vacation—9,120 words. Come see Alaska. Get treed by a grizzly bear. Make idle chatter with your tour guide. Not like the bear’s going to talk.
  • Workday—8,737 words. Casey is about to start his first day as a deckhand on a halibut boat. He really doesn’t want to be there.

Superhero

  • SUPER MODEL—37,372 words. No one has ever managed to get an interview with Wanderer, the city’s elusive superhero. Samantha has followed his career her entire life, and she’s determined to be the first, no matter what it takes.

All right, so that’s … 124, 097 words. Or about 376 pages in print. Not bad for two months’ worth of work, I say! It’ll probably adjust a bit in editing, but I feel pretty good about that. Still have to decide on a price, but I have decided I’m going to take two or three of the stories and make a free sampler with them. Probably two, given the lengths here.

Either way, Unusual Events now heads to the Alpha Readers! Yes! Time to get this thing published! As well as both parts of Colony (at last, right?).

Phew. I need a break! Night!

This Week’s “Being a Better Writer” Post Delayed to Friday + Patreon Update!

I’ve got some bad news, readers. As you might have guessed by the lack of non-scheduled posts, I’ve been quite busy over the last week. In fact, today I finish the last short story for the Unusual Events collection and start getting it to Alpha Readers. I also have family showing up this evening who will be staying with me for a day or two before heading on.

As a result of these two things, this week’s Being a Better Writer post is delayed. Not canceled, but delayed. It will be taking the place of this Friday’s “From the Archives” post. That one will be canceled, though just for this week. I figured most would rather have a new guide than an old one.

Anyway, I apologize for the delay. Hopefully it isn’t too disruptive to your schedules. Now, onto one other item … Patreon!

While I’m still getting the hang of using their system, the August Patreon reward is now up and available for all those who have supported me this last month. This time supporters are getting a preview look at an excerpt from Ripper, one of the short stories in Unusual Events. Even better, it’s a short story that also has ties with the upcoming fantasy-western Shadow of an Empire. That’s almost like two first looks at once! I’m really excited to get to work on Shadow, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to writing for a long time, and I’m quite excited to give everyone a taste of the world I’ve been building.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Being a Better Writer: “High-Class” Literature and Shakespeare

This post was originally written and posted June 2nd, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today’s topic is a little different. And a little late (for which I apologize, but I was wrapped up finishing reading a book, which I’m sure most of you can understand). Today’s topic is more on the philosophy of not just writing, but reading as well. I’m going to talk about the semi-divide between what’s often called “high-class literature” and what’s written for entertainment.

Sound a little confusing? Bear with me.

Remember those English classes you had in high school? Or maybe you’re still having them. Crud, you might be waiting for them to arrive. Well, I had those just like most people. And one of the defining memories I have of those days is of my teacher and the choices of literature they made.

You see, to my teacher, unless the work had been rubber-stamped by a faceless, indiscriminate board somewhere with the term “classic,” then it wasn’t worth reading. No joke. Our class actively debated this with our teacher on several occasions, because there were plenty of us who were active readers and enjoyed thumbing through a good book. The conflict was, however, that we “weren’t really reading,” at least, that was how we saw our teacher’s stance. We were told that Tolkien was garbage, that Harry Potter was trash, all because whatever high-class group our teach took their opinion from had disdained to give those books their stamp of approval. Instead, we were given books to read like Ethan Frome or The Catcher in the Rye. The first I absolutely despise to this day for its complete dryness and lack of real depth, and the second I could replicate my feelings for simply by browsing livejournal for a few hours until I’ve had my fill of teenage angst.

As you can tell, I wasn’t fond of either of them. But we had to read them anyway, because in our teacher’s words, they were what we were supposed to be reading. They were classics. All that other stuff we enjoyed? A waste of time. Not real literature.

Bottom line? If it didn’t have the classic stamp on it somewhere, we shouldn’t have been reading it.

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Being a Better Writer: Setting Sights Higher

Today’s topic, despite its lateness, is one that I feel is important. It’s not a long topic, nor do I think it will take much time to discuss, but it’s something that needs to be said.

Set your sights higher.

In fairness, that’s a good statement … but it’s also pretty vague. So, what am I actually talking about? Let’s start with a little backstory.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a common trend with new writers, young writers, those who come into writing classes or want advice on their stories: They go right for the first thing that enters their minds. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, we have to start somewhere, and that’s how a lot of writers get started. They think of an idea, and they want to write it, so they do.

This isn’t bad. At least, not necessarily. Like I said, everyone has to start somewhere.

The problem is that for many of these writers, they don’t see it as the start, the first stepping stone. They see it as the end goal. Not as their end goal (ie, I want to do this as a hobby and hey look, I did it, so I’m good), but they see it as the end-all. All they need to do is write that one story and everything will be good. They’ll be done, and they’ll have a hit one their hands, a gold standard story.

And the truth is, it really isn’t like that.

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