Friday, April 12, 2013


Remember, I am not a grammar teacher nor a grammar expert.
I am a perpetual student.

I know. I haven't written an Avoid post in a while. I  needed to review and refresh my memory on a few writing points, and in doing so, these struck me as important because I don't practice them enough.

A. Avoid Passive Voice: We learned this in high school English class, but still, when writing we tend to write as we speak. And how do most of us speak? In a passive voice. We use "was" too much, instead of writing the sentence using active verbs.
All writers know this, but many of us--I, especially--tend to slide into the easier passive voice.

At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard.
The cock's crow came with dawn.

The reason he left his job was that his health became impaired.
Failing health compelled him to leave his job.

On the wall to the right was a sign that listed names of occupants and floor numbers.
A sign that listed names of occupants and floor numbers hung on the wall to the right. (from my WIP Texas Dreamer)

B. Avoid Writing in a Way That Is Unnatural to You: This is difficult to explain and might seem contradictory to A. Bottom line, write as you speak or as your characters might speak, but don't think your writing is completely correct. I have said, and will say again, I write as I speak. If I began to write in a precise grammatical way, my writing would be stiff and unnatural. However, I do edit and make corrections later if needed.
Case in point: An editor rejected my first submitted manuscript with these words: "Your characters and plot are good, but your writing reads like a textbook. You see? I wrote as I had always written serious papers and scientific research papers for two degrees. I did not know the basics of writing fiction. The editor told me my writing was without emotion, too, because of this manner of writing. Just the facts, ma'am.

I had to learn how to write fiction, and it was a steep learning curve.
The key is to "let yourself go" as you write. Later, re-read, and correct any dialogue or narrative told in Passive Voice.

Textbook: When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861, he swore to the nation that he had no intention of interfering with the institution of slavery.
My way: In 1861, President Lincoln swore he wouldn't interfere with slave owners.

C. Avoid the Use of Prepositional Phrases, especially that are at the end of a sentence. They leave a weak finish. (to her, at him, for her, etc.)

Seeing him today proved what a complete distraction he was to her.
Seeing him today proved what a complete distraction he was.

She stared in speechless dismay at him.
She stared in speechless dismay.
(or) She stared.

D. Avoid the Offbeat: Words and phrases that might be common today, especially among young writers, will become out-of-date and off-putting to the reader. When I read a novel set in 1845, I expect the characters to use words and phrases of the day. But the narrative of a novel set in 1845 should not contains words or phrases from 1960 or 2013.

The psyched group chanted.
The excited group chanted.

What a rip-off!
What a cheap imitation!

Lord Byron dressed in a funky suit for the ball.
Lord Byron dressed in an odd, quaint suit for the ball.


Comments? Avoids of your own?

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
My Website
My Blog
Sweethearts of the West-Blog
My Facebook Page


  1. Those are all great examples! Every writer has to learn or unlearn things as they write. It is an ongoing process.

  2. We all need these reminders from time to time.

  3. Oh dear, mine is a long list. However, I recently discovered that I'm guilty of even greater crimes:-

    Leading Dependent Clauses

    Far too many instances of the word 'as' [which I believe is a British failing.]

    And lastly, lots of squinting modifiers. { I didn't even know what that was}

  4. To pet peeves of mine are "begin to" and "found himself or herself." As Paty said, learning is an ongoing process, and as you said, we have to edit ourselves.

  5. Paty--learning and unlearning is exactly right. We think we know the right way...but then must relearn. Like playing golf.. I learned to swing one way, but later, I had to break that habit and re-learn so I could win! Thank you for the comment.

  6. Maddy--a squinting modifier?Oh,dear,what is that? Do I write squinting modifiers? I need to look this up. Thanks!

  7. Caroline--I understand pet peeves. I cringe when I see them. The main one is an object to a preposition--this is way too common.
    "He said to him and I." (ugh)
    "Come visit Jane and I tomorrow." (double ugh.)

  8. Great blog Celia,
    I am guilty of the passive voice, I really have to watch that when I revise.
    My pet peeve is modern slang in historical novels, and it happens quite often, unfortunately.



  9. I'm a passive voice addict. LOL I also get attached to a word like "that" and just put the dang thing everywhere.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Hi Celia,

    Great post! When I wrote my very first romance, NO GREATER LOSS, my daughter Christina read the rough draft and asked me why my characters used anyhow so often in their dialogue. I was glad she caught this and realized I used anyhow frequently in my conversations with people. LOL

  11. A great list of avoids! I usually discover my avoids during editing, and wonder how I got so many of them in. One thing I know that happens is I figure it will be okay just once. Before I know it, the once turns into many!

    Morgan Mandel

  12. Great information. Thanks for the reminder.
    Between The Pages

  13. Thanks for the gentle reminders, Celia. Your comment about "just the facts, ma'am" reminded me that we are told there is one instance when this is acceptable. When writing a symopsis, the most concise, factual, sequential presentation of the story is best. A busy editor appreciates it!

  14. Margaret--everyone uses the Passive voice! It's too easy--to write in active voice takes a little more time.
    Oh, so, you've seen those modern slang words in Historicals, too. I fear someone is not doing her/his editing job.
    Thanks--I love for you to visits.

  15. Sarah--my first editor broke me from the habit of using "that" nilly-willy. And another editor broke me from begging dialogues sentences with "Well,...." She marked them all and told me to count the times I did that. 167 times. I was so embarrased.
    Thanks...I think we have a company of passive writers here--or maybe everyone is because it's natural.

  16. Diane--that's funny. I guess finding those overused words in our mss also makes us realize we overuse them in speech, too. I do.
    I begin too many sentences with, "Well...."
    Email and tell me how things are going!

  17. Morgan--we're all a little surprised to learn we overuse some words. I have a list from a self-editing guide of words to highlight. Then I go through the ms and see how many I can delete.
    I should post that list another time. Thanks for re-posting to FB and Twitter! I appreciate your thoughtfulness so much.

  18. Hi, Lynda Coker. I'm so happy to see you here. And you're welcome--

  19. Linda S.--I haven't written a synopsis in so long, I'd sure hate to do it now. But I did have certain things down that I knew were required--just the facts, yes, and to capitalize the names of main characters the first time I mentioned them. Funny, how certain things are easy to remember.
    Thanks for backing me up!

  20. Lots of good advice here. I tend to write as I speak, but then had to watch out for the number of times I had my characters starting a sentence or question with 'So'. That made me realise how often I did that myself when speaking!

  21. Paula--it seems we all have that habit...beginning a sentence when talking with...for you, "So," for me, "Well," for Diane, "Anyway," and others. Now that we all know each other's weaknesses, we should be more comfortable with each other than even before.
    Thank you for your input.

  22. I've taught myself to avoid some of your suggestions - instinct told me they weren't needed and it read so much better without them. Great list, Celia. My biggest problem is dangling participles. I go back and read them now and laugh. Some still get missed, but like I've been told - you can't make it perfect, but I would like to at least try.

    Thanks, Celia. Great advice.

  23. Paisley--I have a very educated friend who majored in English and worked as a librarian. She'll write a review once in a while, but never give higher than a four. Why? She says she's never read a book that could have used some improvement. In other words, no book is perfect.
    I agree, but don't agree with her never giving a five. A rating, to me, is whether I liked the story or not--not if I found a grammatical error.
    So, yes, we all put books out there with some kind of error--maybe even dangling participles!
    Your books are well-written. I wouldn't worry too much.
    Thanks for your comment.

  24. All good points, Celia. Thanks for reinforcing these writing rules.

  25. Thanks, Lyn. I appreciate your visiting and commenting!

  26. I still find myself writing in passive voice and then have to go back and re-write.
    I enjoyed your examples. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Celia, excellent post - passive voice is something I always have to be "active" about and I usually do a read through after my writing looking for passive voice to try and tighten it up. It's not easy. I'm not a good proofer of my own work.

    I try to "AVOID" repeating words in close proximatity or a I try to avoid too many hand gestures. Not everyone rakes their hands through their hair all the time when they're nervous.


  28. Hi, Sherry-I haven't seen you around in a while. I'm so glad you stopped by. As I've said, we all tend to write in passive voice because we speak that way.
    Glad you got something from it.

  29. Steph-you make a very good point about hair gestures. You're right! The one that gets me the most is a woman chewing on her lip, unless she does it once...and even that seems a little gross. But I've seen in some books where she does it repeatedly, and then I can't get that picture out of my head! I imagine it bleeding...okay, I'll shut up.
    Thanks so much for you input...