Sunday, November 28, 2010

Connecting the Don’ts

You know the rules. Don’t use was, don’t use it, don’t start a sentence with an ing word, etcetera, etcetera.

To reveal these and other crimes against fiction, I use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard website to highlight 19 commonly overused words and phrases. After analysis, I edit my work to eliminate occurrences of the offending words to pass the test.

I never wondered why.

That is, until I took the month-long Grammar Divas course that was recently offered by the Colorado Romance Writers. Annie Oortman and Darlene Bucholz have put together an excellent class. I’d like to share my biggest learning with you—passive voice.

For this blog post, I put a draft scene of 1,023 words from my work-in-progress through the Wizard. Analysis revealed 21 occurrences of was and a recommendation to delete about seven of them. GASP! I’d used passive voice! Some writers will wag shaming fingers at me. Some contest judges will deduct a mark or two from my score. Some critiquers will suggest a re-write of a sentence.

Some people need a lesson in passive voice. Myself included.

Did you know that having was in your sentence does not always indicate passive voice.

Here are some examples using was: Stephanie was a bounty hunter. I was born. The wedding was a happy event. These examples might be boring or weak, but they’re not grammatically passive.

And here are some examples of passive voice: A body was found by Stephanie. Janie was bitten on the neck by the vampire. The chickens were fried yesterday.

Was occurs in all of the examples. For an in-depth lesson on the differences, I recommend you visit the Grammar Divas’ website at Passive Voice-Killing Your Prose Softly. It won’t hurt. I promise.

As for those 21 occurrences Autocrit found; none of them passed the Grammar Divas’ test. I’ll still reduce the count, but for breaking some other rule.

I'll end with a revised rule. Don’t judge a sentence by its was.

If you’re curious, put a sample of your work through the Wizard at AutoCrit Editing Wizard.

11 comments:

morgan wyatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Oops, thanks for the eye opener.

Jill James said...

Nice to know all 'was' are not bad. I try not to use too many because they do make for boring sentences.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I just had an awakening to how many times I used a passive sentence - all very similar. BUT not anymore. My CP read through a story of mine that she'd not read before and came back with so many passive sentences that it would have bled to death if all the red was blood. After a while she'd just type in (of course it printed out in the dreaded red) "your buddy" and I trudged through the entire 85,000 word ms and fixed them all. Believe me, I will never do that again. Oh, I still type them in on occasion, but now bells go off and I fix them immediately. The thing is, this was my third story, I hadn't been so blatant about this technique in my first two stories, but created a very bad habit in this one. Now the story is so much tighter, the characters aren't taking so many 'deep sighs' and they aren't passive - at least not by the technique I had fallen prey to. I had read this story time after time and never saw the pattern. I guess this is why we need our critique partners - bless their hearts! :)

Joanne said...

Paisley,
Such good advice about needing our CP's, and another pair of eyes to read through our manuscripts.
And Joan, I love Autocrit.

Joan Leacott said...

Anon, glad to be of service. Thanks for stopping by.

Joan Leacott said...

Hey Jill, I've also come to see "was" as a red flag rather than a no-no. Although to avoid any occurrence of "was" can result in rather bizarre prose. Sometimes, it's the only way.

Joan Leacott said...

Hey Paisley, I get MS Word to do a search and highlight for all my favorite crutch phrases. Then I find other words to replace them. Unfortunately, the replacements then become crutch phrases! What would we do without our crit partners?

Joan Leacott said...

Hi Joanne, It surprises me how many times Autocrit will pick up stuff even our crit partners miss. Thanks for dropping in.

Carolyn Hughey said...

Pretty slick program. Thanks for posting it. And as Jill said, "it's nice to know not all was bad." :-)

Clarissa Southwick said...

I had a lot of fun with this program. Thanks for recommending it.