Active and Concrete Writing

It’s important to keep writing as active as possible. This does not mean that passive voice doesn’t have its place. However, if a piece of prose is passive from beginning to end, the reader will probably be snoozing before they’re done reading. Check out the following sentences. By eliminating the passive verb, the sentence is stronger.

She went dancing every night.

She danced every night.

This is a simple example of the concept, but if you review your writing, you’ll find plenty of examples of these types of sentences. How can you make the second sentence stronger? Ask questions. What kind of dancing? Is she dancing to put food on the table? Or does she hang out at a lonely heart’s bar? Or does she do it at the YMCA in an attempt to lose weight? Look at all the options available and determine which makes the most sense for what you’re trying to say and then make your sentence more concrete.

She danced every night at the YMCA determined to take off those extra 30 pounds.

Why is she trying to lose weight? An opportunity to add more concrete details.

She danced every night at the YMCA determined to take off those extra 30 pounds before her 20th high school reunion.

We have taken a sentence that was weak in construction and built a carefully constructed concrete sentence. As you edit your papers, be aware of the construction of your sentences. Passive construction in a first draft is fine but upon revision seek to strengthen your prose.



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The Devil’s in the Details

The idiom “the devil is in the details” expresses the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly; i.e. details are important. Unfortunately, when we are drafting the first time, those details may be fuzzy, indistinct, or vague. The creative process is messy at best. The true craft of writing doesn’t take form until the rewriting stage. Or as James Michener once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

This week let’s talk about word choice or diction. For a piece of writing to come alive in the reader, the writer must use words that are concrete and active in communicating their message. The first step is getting rid of those words that the brain throws out simply because it’s natural. The brain loves patterns and especially repetition so the more frequently a word has passed through its memory banks the more often it will pop up in your writing.

Not a good thing. As writers, we all have unique lists of words that pop up in our writing but it takes someone else usually to point them out to us. Our brain’s don’t recognize them. Other words are frequently overused by all of us. An example is “that”. Roughly 95% of the times we use it, it is not necessary.

Other examples are: very, so, seemed and other qualifiers.

When you sit down to revise, you need to be aware of those word which may be clouding your prose. You’ll find a list of common words to look for (I call them R.I.P for rest in peace) in Angel. Use this to help you find the chaff in your prose. Make sure that all of the words in your piece count.


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If I had a dollar (I know the cliché says nickel but inflation…) for every time people have asked me why I teach, I’d be able to retire before 85. I’ve often wondered if people in other occupations get that question. I try to imagine plumbers or beauticians or grocers being asked that. Why are teachers singled out for it? I don’t know. Sadly enough – for those asking – I can’t answer either.

Asking me why I teach is like asking me why I breathe. My mom says that as soon as I could walk I lined my dolls up and jabbered at them. My aunts were teachers. Is there a genetic link? I’ve even tried not to teach. When my boys were small, I took a break from teaching. I started a writer’s group and began to “teach” writers. I joined a creative team and worked with actors “teaching” drama and production skills. When my boys were older, I returned to it.

Teaching is my passion. How do you ever question that? My oldest got to meet a childhood hero when he was doing his internship at a TV station in Oklahoma City. Joe Montana came on to be interviewed. Patrick got his picture taken with Joe, and I asked him that important question. Did you or anyone ask him why he played football? I’m pretty sure you know the answer.

I teach because I’m a teacher.


Filed under Believing, Teaching, Writing