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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Editing Tip: Active vs. Passive Voice

Active vs. Passive

This grammatical trick was unknown to me for a long time. (p.s. that was passive voice).

Most publishers, editors, and other writers will almost always prefer writing with sentences written in active voice. 

Okay, so what is active voice? Well, first let's have a little refresher lesson on verbs. Verbs fall into 3 categories: Active, Passive, and a form of the verb "to be"

We will be talking about only Active and Passive on this lesson.

Active Voice: If a subject performs the action of the verb it is described as "active"

Example: The girl kicked the ball. The subject "girl" performed an action, "kicked". 

Passive Voice: If in a sentence the subject has an action done to it, then it is passive. Are you slightly confused? I hope so. I was and it will make me feel better. 

Example: The ball was kicked by the girl. Now the subject "the ball" had the action done to it "was kicked".

The reason Active voice is more commonly accepted by others is because passive voice gets wordy.

Example: It was decided by the mother that the boy would need to eat every bite.

It's a long sentence, right? The passive section is "It was decided by the mother" Let's see if we can shorten it up and make it Active.

Example: His mother said he needed to eat every bite! Ta da! In comparison, 9 words instead of 15 words will win every time.

Active vs. Passive voice is a long lesson to learn. I am still learning to watch and correct my sentences. 
Test yourself out below. 

Keep going and Happy writing!

Quiz: (answers will be in the comments)

What sentence shows passive voice?

A: The dog was dropped off by the owner everyday
B: Everyday the owner dropped off the dog.

What sentence is not written in passive voice?

A: At each performance, a new tap dance was performed by a different dancer.
B: A different dancer performed a different  tap dance at each performance.
C: The tap dance was performed by a different dancer. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Writer's Block Doesn't Exist...Seriously.

There is a term in which writers have dubbed "writer's block". This is a made up disorder, it is not a parasite that has lodged itself deep in your creative receptors of your brain; no, it is not a clinical disorder that will cause you to lay on your bed for hours wondering how you could be plagued with such an ordeal.

Now, before you run screaming from this post shouting that there is a great writing conspiracy--just bear with me.

There are symptoms that every author experiences which have led to the development of said pseudo-affliction. Every author at one point in their writing experiences the moment where they find themselves cryptically, hypnotized by the blinking cursor on their white computer screen. Others will find that they have paced obsessively in their hallway until their carpet pulls from the seams.

This simply means that your writing has officially become...hard! Dun dun dun!

Hard? What does this mean? I have a story, poem or thought in my head it should just flow out onto the paper! At the beginning this usually happens, authors are so excited about their future masterpiece the words just spew out everywhere. There always seems to come a time, however, when an author finds themselves suddenly...stuck. Aka writer's block was developed. Being stuck doesn't mean you're blocked, it shows you have  difficult part in the story you need to work through.

In my series I was stuck for two days, would you like to know what it was over? I didn't know how to write my character from his bedroom into the kitchen! Sound ridiculous? Well I was determined to not just "tell" my reader He stood and walked into the kitchen, it's pretty bland. I wanted him to be stewing over an internal conflict, or I wanted it to be jazzed up a bit. So yes, it took me two days to write it.

I wasn't blocked, I knew what I wanted to write, I knew the direction I wanted to go, I just found that all of a sudden the sentence was not flowing! It wasn't coming. Writing became hard.

Okay, well for the sake of argument let's say Writer's Block doesn't exist. How do you get over the "stuck moments".

Advice I received in one of my editing classes has helped me through the hard moments of writing.

Force yourself to write something. Even if it is a thought you had about the ending of the story, or a stanza from the end of  a poem. Write something. Staring at the cursor only frustrates you and hurts your eyes.

Take a breath, walk outside, go get some caffeine, something. Then come back and write again. It's a phenomenon, when you keep pushing through something reawakens your creative genius and you will find that you can get that character to walk in a jazzy fashion from the bedroom to the kitchen.

Take away, remember to take breaks during your writing and then keep writing. Don't take two days like I did and just push the story aside, that is how writers forget about their work and take it up again 15 years later!

Keep going, you'll make it!

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Editing Tips of the Week

What is the harshest, most painful part of writing? Some may say,

"Without a doubt outlining, makes me pull my hair out; literally pull it out, until I'm bald or patchy."


"If you want to see wailing and gnashing of teeth, come into my house during formatting and submission time!"


In my humble, writer's opinion, the part of writing that brings more tears, more ulcers, and more rocking in the corner, chanting "not now, not again," over and over like a lunatic is -- EDITING!

 Editing and proofreading, those blessed, totally frustrating, but necessary evils that are part of every writer's daily living.  As much as authors would like to think what they put on the page just turns to pure, written gold in an instant, it just isn't realistic!

I have taken this a step further (in hopes to relieve the burden in my own writing) and I enrolled  in Poynter University Editing program and I have to admit -- I  thought I had a wide knowledge base of the written word, but have since been humbled. There is so much to continually learn  about writing, grammar and horrible-drive me crazy-punctuation. I set out with a mission to help other writers during this painstakingly, so-necessary process and began my own freelance editing services! 

I now am of the opinion, that editing does not have to be the pull-my-teeth-out and throw-the-computer-out-the-window, process! On the contrary, it can be exciting and exhilarating to see your work of art be polished and refined until light emits from it and angles sing praises!

Because of this belief I have, I have set up on the blog that I will post editing tips each week for myself, other authors and other editors to use and apply to their own writing. So, we might as well begin for this week. I have some biggies. These two tips are some I have found to be great weaknesses in my own writing! I hope these can help you refine those pages on your screen!

Editing Tips:

Long Sentence? Split it up: When I proofread my own manuscript or posts one of my greatest weaknesses is writing long sentences. I am a comma diva! I love those curvy, little punctuation marks! In my mind, if I have a comma then the sentence can go on!

However, it has resulted in too- many- to count long sentences. If I have to go back and re-read all my paragraphs because the sentence went on for a mile and I got lost along the way (see what I mean, take breath here), then my readers will also have to.

See if you can split those bad boys up!

Don't begin a thought with 'Start to': Let me just explain this by example. This is an actual excerpt from a sentence from my three-book series (work in progress). I'll let you see the change and you tell me what you think.

-Starting to pace back and forth nervously, he wondered how he would ever undo the damage he had done-


'Pacing nervously back and forth, he wondered how he would ever undo the damage he had done-

The point is, does someone start to pace or are they just pacing?

My suggestion would be to go back through your pages and click the 'find' button in your word program. Type the word 'start' and see if you were as shocked as I was to find all the moments that I wrote "start to". Just re-wording a few things can make all the difference in your descriptions!

I hope these tips have encouraged some pondering in your mind about your own writing styles! Keep trudging along, and edit as you go!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Building Characters in a Novel

What snags you into a story?

Is it the brooding, handsome rogue that carries a dangerous mystery?

Or what about the gorgeous heroine that discovers her magical ability just in time to save her family?

Could it be the grumpy, cynical old man that sits on his front porch, heckling the youngsters passing by? Of course, only later discovering that the young boy down the street reminds him of the son he once lost and teaches him to love again?

The point is -- characters keep a reader going just as much as a riveting plot and never ending obstacles and cliff hangers!

Take away point: Readers need to feel like characters are real! Let them sweat, bring on the tears, show their brilliant successes! Readers want to relate to characters. Let readers escape their own reality for a time and live in another, realistic, but fiction reality!

Building a character is probably one of my favorite parts of the story build a completely unknown, unique person! These individuals come with colorful backgrounds, understandable shortcomings, and each needs to have a sense of charm!

Without certain qualities in a character, your readers are going to literally write them off, maybe even hate them and close the book!

Now, for some characters that is fine! It's okay if they are disliked and written off, the author probably intends it to be that way. Some villains are so bad, so dastardly that it's okay if no matter what they do later on in the book, the reader refuses to forgive them! Dolores Umbridge is a great example, from the Harry Potter series, she was just flat out awful! However, she was a crucial character to the story so it's okay that she had absolutely no redeeming qualities, she served her purpose.

The characters that you don't want your readers to turn away from, are of course your Protagonists! They can have faults -- in fact they should. They need to be real, the good guys can't always do the right thing. In some situations they can't always win either. Sometimes the good guy loses, aka Romeo and Juliet; tragedies just leave you stunned and aching, but riveted by the powerful story.

Antagonists, don't always have to be disliked either. In fact, the villain in my work-in-progress series is actually my favorite character! Don't believe me? It's true!

 My antagonist is an excellent character, and he most certainly is showing his faults, but something about the bad guy is...I just love it! And that is okay too!

As I said in the discussion about giving your writing a voice, Javert, from Victor Hugo's Les Miserable, is painted as the antagonist, which he is, most certainly. Javert has total redeem ability though with readers since he doesn't even realize how unforgiving, and bull- headed he is! He is simply too righteous. It's pull-your-hair-out frustrating! Yet, as a reader when Javert makes the (spoiler alert) decision to end his own life, you ache for the man, you feel his frustration and confusion and wish there was a way you could reach out to him.

The challenge for you today would be: Look at your characters! Do they stir emotions, do they have faults that readers can see and relate with. How do they handle conflict?

Take 30 minutes or an hour and choose one character. Write their story, as in their back story. Now, you don't have to include the back story in the actual writing or novel. The back story helps you, as the author, know your characters inside and out! It will help you know how to write the conflict situations throughout the story because you are going to know how their back story experiences are going to affect their present conflict! Make sense or do I sound like a lunatic? I promise if you develop the history of your characters it will make the novel writing process so much easier and it will also naturally make your characters more real to readers. This is good. This is what you want.

As you build your characters, you will soon understand why novels become so personal to an author. The characters become "real" in a sense. Authors gain a connection with their characters like they are old friends!

In a later post we will discuss how to treat that attachment authors get to their characters and how to not get so attached you don't allow anything to happen to certain characters! It's true it happens, characters are not to control the story...the writer is!

Do your homework and let me know how it goes!

Happy Writing. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Finding Your Voice

Writing, whether it is short stories, poetry, non-fiction, or a full on novel, is a very personal journey. Think about when you read a book, then you move on to another story -- it's different, right? Because each author has their own voice -- their own style of writing!

Personally right now I am reading Les Miserables by:Victor Hugo and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, talk about a different voice, more like a different era!

Reading different styles, lengths, genres, and a variety of different authors you become more and more able to flesh out your own author's voice and style of writing.
Get ready for the game changer... the more you read, the more you  learn to read like a writer! Say what?!

Reading books like a writer changes the entire reading experience, in my opinion, you are now able to see behind the words and find the author splattered among them. Each author has their own personality, their likes and dislikes, their wants and desires for each one of their characters! It takes you deeper into the story, you now become like your oh-so-wise English instructors that could dissect the true meaning behind Lord of the Flies without batting an eye!

Using Les Miserable as an example, most know the story, but I am going to paint the picture I have gathered of Victor Hugo's feelings towards Javert. Most people, from the musical production and movie, view Javert as the "villain" however, Hugo paints a picture of Javert as someone who simply doesn't understand how to not be righteous! He doesn't understand how to "bend the rules" or make exceptions. From the voice that comes in Hugo's description of the character he isn't a "bad guy" he is simply so righteous and so good, he can't find it within himself to forgive the faults of others or accept a repentant heart. Those who sin in his eyes are not righteous, therefore they are criminals.

Finding your voice to describe the arc of your writing or your characters is one of the most exciting parts of the writing journey. Once the author finds their style and voice, the characters just leap off the page because they now have become a realistic individual!

The take away thought, I would like to leave. Is accept others for their individual writing styles. No author writes the same, I am inspired by music. When I write my intense scenes that are packed full of action I replay the same song over and over until I have it written...for the current novel it is Centuries, from Fall out Boy, but that is beside the point. It helps me visualize the moments in my stories like it is a movie in my head, because let's face it the music in movies totally make the scene!

Maybe you like to outline, maybe you like to just type away and see where it takes you! Perhaps you like to hand write your stories with the old pen and paper? Maybe you stand or record your own voice...the point is it doesn't matter! Find what works for you and roll with it...or write with it!

Writing a work of art, has some guidelines that are important to follow so you stay collected, sane, and organized, but tell naysayers who bash your style of writing to go sit on a pin -- that's right you heard me...Sit. On. A. Pin!