"She said, She thought, She heard, She felt, She knew...Noooooo!"
Writing a new manuscript is exciting. By the time I reach the end, though, I'm usually a little weary of the story. It's easy to think, "Whew! I'm glad that's finished!" But no...I'm not.
Even though I write for an Independent Publisher, my manuscript still needs editing. However, with an Independent Publisher, she nor her staff changes my story. It's as though I am self-publishing, but not doing all the technical work.
We are required, though, to do the basic formatting and editing. In addition, each of us is to have a reader to help find those nasty, elusive writing errors. And finally, an author/editor will help clean it up.
Before I get to that step, I use a set of Self-Editing Guidelines I've had for several years. These are easy ways to pinpoint common mistakes.
For now, we'll look at only one but very important error. Highlight your manuscript to find them and rewrite the sentence.
SEARCH AND HIGHLIGHT "Telling phrases" that indicate Passive Writing:
Wrong: She saw the waiter carry a tray of drinks past her.
Right: The waiter carried a tray of drinks past her.
Wrong: He watched her brush out her hair.
Right: She brushed out her hair.
Other words that also can be changed are:
What exactly is Passive Writing? In easy terms, Passive Writing uses weak verbs, and in this case, "telling phrases." This is another way to describe "Show...Don't tell."
Everything the character hears, smells, sees, touches, and thinks is reflected through POV.
If the author writes, "She saw him grab the money," the writing is telling...and also becomes passive. The writer is telling the reader what is happening.
Instead, the writer should allow the character's POV to explain the action.
(Wrong) She saw him grab the money.
(Right) "He grabbed the money," Mary whispered to Susan.
Even though I believe my writing is clean of such errors, I check anyway. To my surprise, I always find too many instances.
In the manuscript I'm working on now, I first highlighted "saw." Guess what? The word "saw" was highlighted 16 times in a 66,000 word novel.
Each must be reviewed, because all of them may not be an error. Using "saw" in narrative is almost always weak, but using "saw" in dialogue might be correct.
Looking toward the west, she saw two riders approaching.
Emilie looked to the west. Two riders approached.
I'll keep this sentence as is, because it's dialogue:
"Some of the men kept their gazes on Lee, but a couple looked out across the pasture and saw the shooter mount his horse, turn, and ride away over a slight rise."
She saw that Lee and Tex kept their horses at a lope.
Lee and Tex kept their horses at a lope.
Other highlighted passive words in my manuscript:
I'm not surprised by these numbers, because it's a common way to write. You might try this test on a manuscript you're working on, if you don't already do so.
I write the same as I talk, and in speaking, I use these words often. But this fact doesn't make it right.
Years ago, a contest judge sent the document about self-editing. She said my story was good but filled with weak or passive writing. I've been forever grateful that she took the time to explain.
I printed the six pages for reference, and now the corners and edges are frayed. The pages have been read many, many times.
As a reader, too, I might find a novel that's too passive, but the story is interesting anyway. In that case, I overlook the errors and read on.
The main idea is to write an exciting or emotional book.
Thank you for reading.