"Every page must contain conflict."
Welcome to the companion blog for the Story Building Blocks instruction series that walks #writers through the process of constructing a #plot, to designing #characters, and infusing #conflict on every page. It will also guide you through revisions to the final proofreading. For more information and tools visit www.dianahurwitz.com.
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1) A single, active verb is more effective than passive verbs or passive verbs
paired with adjectives.
Search and kill as many passive verbs as you can. Look
for: am, is, are, was, were, being, be,
been and any verb ending in -ing. A
few passive verbs in a manuscript is fine; a few in a paragraph aren't.
a phrase with a passive -ing verb
implies the two things happened simultaneously.
Dick danced, twirling plates on his head, and singing a song.
Dick twirled plates on his head as he
danced and sang.
Dick could potentially do those things at the same time if he was truly talented.
Picking up her briefcase and locking the
door, Sally rushed off to work.
can't pick up her brief case, lock the door, and rush off to work all at the
same time. The sentence should read:
Sally picked up her briefcase, locked the
door then rushed to work.
the items cannot happen simultaneously, change it.
is a difference between passive voice and past tense.
Past tense means the
action already occurred.
Passive voice has to do with who did or did not do
something. It almost always includes forms of the verb to be. In active voice, the subject does something. In the passive
voice, something is done to the subject.
is generally considered better to use active rather than passive verbs.
4) In the
revision phase, as you read the sentences, identify the subject and verb.
the subject of the verb perform the action of the main verb or does he sit
there while something or someone else performs the action? If the subject
performs the verb, it is active. If it doesn’t, it’s passive.
Passive: The victim was
drowned around midnight.
Active: The murderer drowned the victim around midnight.
Passive: Jane was scratched
Active: Puff scratched
instances when the writer does not know the doer
of the verb, the doer is not
important, or there are many doers,
it is acceptable to use passive verbs.
If you intentionally obscure whodunit, you might say, “Dick
was murdered.” If you say, “It was
just lying there,” you have indicated that it doesn’t matter who left it
lying there or why.
5) A character might always speak
passively as a quirk.
verbs indicate a state of being, not action.
Do a search for:
is, was, are, seems, becomes. These are red flags.
verbs and modifiers shouldn’t be mixed.
If you begin a sentence with a
modifying phrase, it becomes a dangling modifier if you follow it with a
Sighing softly, the book was placed on the
The sentence forgot to mention
who sighed and placed the book on the table. Supplying the missing who turns it into an active sentence.
softly, Jane placed the book on the table.
sighed softly and placed the book on the table.
Revising for passive verbs is a tedious chore. However, the more you practice using verbs correctly, the more natural it will become.
For more information on revision and proper verb usage, check out Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers. I don't revise a book without it.