Are You A Passive Writer?

I’m not referring to your demeanor, I’m referring to your word choices. I was reading a blog about improving your scenes the other day and one thing it said was ‘did you notice the author didn’t use any passive verbs?’ Then I thought: “Hmm. Did I use any in my book?” So I hit my trusty Ctrl-F and searched for a few. One I used way too much is ‘looked’ or ‘looked like.’ So I cut them all out and found better ways to describe what something looked like or someone’s reaction. 

It made the passages a whole lot better! If you are getting passive (and now I do mean your demeanor) about using passive verbs. Go forth and annihilate them!

Characters v. Stories

Everyone who reads has certain pleasure points when it comes to a good book. Some like to curl up with a romance novel while in their stocking feet holding a big box of tissues. Others like to sit out on the screened-in porch with a tall glass of ice tea and a good mystery novel. But what is it about that book that the person loves? Is it the story or the characters? Maybe it’s both. But for me, it matters not the genre I choose but whether i can visualize the characters. I don’t mean see them as in what they look like or what they wear. I don’t need those details because I am going to fill them in with my own image. What I want is for them to be a near to real as possible so I can like them, laugh at them, and even scold them! I LOVE characters.

So that is a big goal of mine as I write for kids and teens. I want to build characters that people just want to follow and get to know, regardless of the storyline. Of course that has to be good, but when I think of shows, movies and books that I’ve liked, it always comes down to the character. When I was a child and watched Bette Davis on our black and white TV, it didn’t matter what the story was about. I was there for HER. Same today. I love the Madagascar movies (which are not for kids in my opinion) not for the plot but for the characters — especially how they interact with each other. I’d watch those animated animals no matter what they did or where they did it. They have great personalities and that is what makes me watch. As many know, Bette Davis was larger than life on the screen — the way she walked and talked. Her attitude about things. I have to admit as an adult I’ve purchased all her DVDs on TCM and anywhere else I could find them.

Another character that I would read no matter what is Lamar in Crystal Allen’s MG book. “How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba Sized Trophy.” From the very first page that kid is hilarious. And he thinks he’s so cool. I could not put the book down. He had a unique voice that carried the story and would have whether he was a bowler (and he was believe it or not) or a brigadier general.

I truly believe that with well-developed characters, books can be so much better. I am still learning how to make mine sing so that when anyone reads about them, they want to know them too.

Manuscripts: Focus, focus, focus

One thing I have learned, and continue to learn, about putting together a manuscript is that it is not like writing a letter about something that happened to you or someone else. It is structured — whether you intend to do so or not. It has a beginning, middle and end of course, but there is so much more to it.

I’ve read lots of writing books (i.e., Writer’s Digest Great Fiction series, which I highly recommend, and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks) and from what I have ascertained, once the structure is in place, I can relax and just enjoy the writing part.

I was listening to an interview on Twitter with author Jill Santopolo and was happy to hear her co-sign the same approach I have added to my arsenal after reading the aforementioned references: to create the shell, and then fill it in. What does that mean? Well she didn’t say it that way exactly, but in a nutshell, you create an outline of each chapter so you know where you are going. It does not have to explain every little detail, just a basic sentence or two about what needs to happen. Then you can craft the direction you need to take so that you do not forget. Granted, I am a project manager so I am especially fond of clarity, direction and getting there properly — so sue me.

Anyway, here is an example: in James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure, he explains the ‘doors of no return.’ These doors are major events that thrust the protagonist forward in the story. Events that cause them to act — whether they want to or not. It’s fascinating reading and it really works! So putting this into practice I can ensure the story has direction, as well as conflict and excitement in all the right places. It’s not easy and I am still a novice at it, but the more I do it, the better my writing becomes.

You must admit, keeping kids’ attention these days is tough, so if you are going to write a kidlit book, it is crucial to use a methodology (uh oh, my PM hat again) that will keep them focusing on your book, not the XBox. 🙂