Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ready, Set, Action!

Ready, Set, Action! 
The Use of Active Voice

from Jarmoluk on Pixaby

Writing in active voice. We remember the lessons in elementary school about John. 

The tree was cut down by John—Passive Voice
John cut the tree down—Active Voice

Did anyone just have a flashback involving red ink?

Seriously though, let’s talk about “active voice” beyond the confines of grammar.  Bring it into the realm of writing—fiction, poetry, picture books, a note to your kids.  Whatever you’re writing, active voice can bring your writing alive for your readers. 

Like all aspects of writing, active voice doesn’t travel alone, so we’ll also talk about a few of the traveling companions of active voice as we go through some brief advice about this stylistic element of writing.

A Verb a Day Keeps ….

Passive voice away. Not really, but it is true that learning and wielding new verbs is a great way to hone your active voice as well as improve you Words with Friends scores. 

Can you use these verbs in a sentence?

Sluice, gambol, cajole, decant

Notice that they’re not only active verbs, but their precise, and they’re lyrical with strong emotional and rhythmic qualities. 

Knowing your verbs gives you more flexibility, precision, and prosody in your writing.

If you said, “the rain cleaned the gutter,” you’d be well and good,but if “the rain sluiced the gutter,” you'd have more sound, imagery, and motion just by using a slightly more specific word. But whatevery you do, don’t let the “gutter be sluiced by the rain”—the rhym is thrown all off and your writing will be more passive than active.

For a little fun with powerful verbs, check this out  Verbs on Vitamins

Tighten Your Literary Waistline (Or Waste in a Line)

Another important part of using active voice is making sure you don’t waste any words in a given line of writing.  For me, the most valuable tool in trimming your writing is using a “poetic weed.” The idea there is to weed every line of writing as if it is a line of poetry

            A. Make sure every verb is active and specific
            B. Cut any unnecessary words –articles, conjunctions, and prepositional phrases
            C. Test every image—is it as tight, concrete, and specific as it could be?
            D. Use active voice
            E. Make sure every detail is doing double duty

For more on poetic weeding, take a look at this post on Wedding Your Poetic Garden

Remember—Write, Revise, Repeat

Developing new writing habits is like changing your lifestyle—diets don’t work—and it’s a day by day battle.  You have to

            A. study the writing of other writers who have tight active voice you admire.  Look
                 closely at how they do it.  Teach yourself the tricks. Here’s a look at reading as a                             writer.  Read On, Writer.
            B. Practice the techniques as you write. It’s usually better to do it in writing exercises
             because while you’re composing a story, poem, or pictutre book, you want to be in the
            moment, not thinking about if you’re using the right verb.  Stay in the zone of your work.

            C. Revise. You learn how to hone you writing by revising. Notice I said revise—not
            edit. Revise means to re-see. Look at your writing in new ways. Play with it, expand it,
            contract it.  Turn a story into a poem. A poem into a song.  Flex your writing like your
            muscles—sprint, do yoga, run the stairs, find writing muscles you never knew you had.

            D. Repeat. You internalize new writing techniques by using them again and again.  It
            takes quite a few morning runs before you get into the routine of it. Writing works the
            same way.  Overtime, you internalize the new writing techniques and make them your
            own so that you don’t even have to think about it.  You’ll write in active voice as easily as
            you prepare your morning coffee. 

So, Who is Ready to Give It a Try? (AKA The Contest Part of the Post)

If you’re ready to take your active voice to the next level, then follow this prompt.

1. Find an author who has great active voice. Sit down, take apart the writing. Look at how the active voice is specifically constructed.  Make a list of how it’s done.  Ruminate on it a bit.  Hmm.  There’s a nice verb. Ruminate.  Lovely sound quality there.

2. Freewrite for 5-10 minutes on one of the following prompts
            A. A child tries something new
            B. A person solves a problem
            C. A family gets a new pet

3. Go back through and use the techniques described in this post and/apply the techniques used by the author you studied in step 1 to your own writing.

4. Read and reread what you produced in step 3.  Tinker with it.  Oh, another nice verb, eh? I can just hear those words clunking around in your head as you work.

5. Set aside your work and write it all again. See what new things emerge.

Have fun!

Like the results? Grand!  

Post them in the comments on this blog to enter the READY, SET, ACTION contest which runs from 9/1/17 to 9/30/17. The winning will be featured on Sylvanocity: A Creative Community with a profile on the author.  They’ll also receive a nice literary surprise to further their growth as a writer. 

Keep in mind.  The comments on my blog must be approved before they appear, so if your entry doesn’t appear, be patient. It will soon! 

Ready, set, get ACTIVE!

A Tight Write Bite by A. LaFaye