A Flogging


I had my monthly writing group last night and had a bit of a flogging. Flogging really isn’t the right word, as all the group members are soooo friendly and are just trying to make my writing better. However, it was clear I do have some work to do.

Most of the suggestions have to do with the use of the word “was”. It’s too passive. For example I could write the following

Art was walking down the path when he tripped on a log and did a faceplant in the mud.

Or I could write

Walking down the path, Art tripped on a log, his face planting in the mud.

Obviously, the second sentence is more exciting. Except it’s not that obvious when I’m reading my own writing. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of obvious. Non-obvious?

Again, this is why I’m so grateful I’ve found this group. They can see the things in my writing I cannot. In fact, I’m not sure if would’ve even thought of this on my own.

I think my next course of action is to open my story in Microsoft Word (or OpenOffice Writer) and do a conditional highlighting to highlight all the occurrences of the word “was” or “were” and replace them using the technique above. That should be interesting.

Anyhow, they tell me my writing is improving and that they are interested in reading the rest of the story. I’m excited to read the rest of the story, too, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to re-write it. In fact, I don’t think it will be done before this year’s NaNoWriMo. Oh well, the cycle continues 🙂


13 thoughts on “A Flogging

  1. After having this pounded into my head several years ago, it is something I’m constantly aware of. The same can be said of the present tense “is” or any other use of “to be.” My backspace is wearing out correcting this sort of thing . . .

    Hang in there . . .

  2. The whole passive thing is a little tricky, though. While the first sentence might not be shockingly exciting, the second sense is a bit convoluted and causes the reader to pause to figure out what is going on during what should be a fast action event.

    Something like:
    Art face planted in the mud when the damn log in the middle of the path grabbed a hold of his ankle.


    The log in the middle of the road grabbed Art’s leg and dragged him face first into the mud

    (if you want to go a little over the top)

    might solve the passive without adding a bunch of commas. I overuse commas and convoluted clauses way to much when I fight the passive voice. Sigh.

    Keep up the editing. I want a advanced reading copy to review on my sites when the time comes 🙂

  3. I see what your writing group are saying but it’s not an obvious thing is it?
    I am guilty of writing endless sentences that go on for paragraphs. I always read through afterwards – even comments and emails, to stick in a few commas and full stops just so the reader can draw breath 🙂

  4. first drafts are made for passive voice. Second drafts are for getting rid of it. 🙂

    “Was walking” versus “walked” is less immediate to the reader. Don’t worry about writing that way so long as you’re sure to edit it all out during your rewrites.

    oy floggings . . . I’ve had my fair share of those.

  5. Julie – that is very true. The key, as you said, is to go back and edit. I did not 🙂

    Diane – maybe not too obvious. Still, I think it does make a difference between OK fiction and Good fiction.

  6. Flogging is very good for the writing soul! I have a huge problem with passive writing also and am always trying to keep an eye our for it!

  7. oh, I know I went back through and changed some past tense to present,
    but now I see that merely means I changed were to are, and was to is….
    Hmmm..I shall have to go back again with this insight, and see what is there now, and if I can apply this change to it.
    This issue was and is, not at all obvious to me.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Ah the pernicious passive voice. Did you know you can set your Word grammar checker to highlight passive sentences? It get annoying, but makes it hard to ignore them.

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