Today for May Collaborations I have a lovely lady called Katie. I found her through a Facebook group collaboration post where I asked for a few guest posters. I loved Katie's ideas and I knew it would be SO good for you to read! Ever wanted to know how to strengthen your writing? Let Katie tell you everything you need to know.
Scientists have debunked the widely touted theory that 10,000 hours of practice make you an expert in a skill. Experienced writers everywhere sighed in relief because we continue finding ourselves boxed in by the passive voice and sapped by anemic vocabulary.
You know the weak words I’m talking about: think, feel, seems, was, nearly, almost, very, extremely and utilize. They pepper our writing when we aren’t confident and make us doubt our creative aptitude. (I’m one of the few editors who doesn’t mind the odd adverb here and there, but in my own writing, those lovely ly-ending words jump out at me like monsters lying wait in the closet.)
What do these words indicate?
Not much. They aren’t important to the overall structure of your story. A character can be extremely sad without this weak language:
She was extremely sad watching the funeral procession out her window.
The dark-clad mourners trudged down the street. She watched from above, leaning against the window frame and picturing the navy dress in her closet.
You still get your point across – this is one sad gal – but you’re showing instead of telling (that old refrain again!).
Women, in particular, are criticized for using minimizing words like think and feel in speech. They come across as apologetic, and in writing, this feeble language is forgettable.
It’s funny, even in writing that last sentence, my inclination was to write “… this feeble language may be unforgettable to some.” How much more confident I feel declaring what I believe instead of fearing I may offend. How much smoother and more engaged in the writing process I am when not taking myself out of it with self-deprecation and doubt.
Now, there’s a difference between declaring and being aggressive. If you’re a fiction writer, you may be using language to create an antagonistic character, and in that case, go all out. Yet generally, strongly stating your message doesn’t make you aggressive in the least. It makes you a confident, competent writer.
What’s wrong with the passive voice?
It isn’t always wrong, and sometimes it’s unavoidable. The passive voice is when an action’s object becomes the subject of a sentence. It’s easily identified when you see a form of a “to be” verb followed by a past participle, which often ends in -ed:
The funeral procession [object] was watched [past participle] by the girl [actor/doer].
The girl [actor/doer] watched the funeral procession [object].
The active voice makes it more obvious who’s doing the action in a sentence, and it isn’t as clunky as the passive voice.
Why can’t I use “utilize”?
I’ll admit this is a personal pet peeve, but it’s also totally unnecessary. “Utilize” means “use.” It’s pretentious and trying too hard, and you’re not a fussy writer in the least.
If you’re interested in the 10 biggest mistakes writers make (and how to fix them!), get my free study here.
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