I’ve written before about When Passive Voice is Permissible. Strunk and White admit that “Use the active voice … does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.”
Illustration by kikkerdirk • Fotolia
But one of the biggest problems writers face in critique groups is the problem of partners who flag passages as “passive” when they’re really not. Often verbs of being (be, is, was) are flagged as “incorrect” or “passive.” They are not. They are not particularly strong verbs, but they are not passive in and of themselves. Continue reading
When writing for a general audience, we want to ensure that the language we use is clear—the opposite of the kind of bafflegab we looked at earlier.
☐ Language is clear and vocabulary is appropriate to the audience.
The key to keeping your language clear is ensuring that everything can be understood in context. This often requires a careful balance between the concrete and the abstract. Information technology solutions is an abstract. Computer networking hardware is slightly more concrete. Better still is devices that connect your computer to the Internet. Continue reading
To keep readers engaged with the text, use strong nouns and verbs to construct active sentences. Which isn’t to say every sentence must be in the active voice.
☐ The passive voice is used only when appropriate.
Writers are forever being told to avoid the passive voice.
You see the problem. Continue reading
As writers, we want to create strong mental pictures and evoke powerful emotions. Even if your writing is prescriptive rather than narrative, you want to give readers a clear idea of your concepts.
☐ The writing is illuminating and vivid.
The foundation of vivid writing is strong nouns and verbs. People doing things. The next important element is using precise words. It’s one thing to write about a girl riding a horse. It’s another to write about a twelve-year-old waif riding an elegant palomino. Continue reading
The best journalism, business, and academic writing is as eloquent and enjoyable as the best writing in other genres. Unfortunately, most people do not produce the best writing. Most people produce adequate writing. Since you aspire to be a writer, I trust that regardless of the field in which you write, you are striving to be among the best.
If most of your writing has been done in academia, business, or journalism, you may need to work on loosening up your style if you’re now writing for the general market. There, a casual tone is preferred to the formality often found in other realms. You do need to adjust the level of formality based on your personal style and your audience expectation, but generally speaking, modern readers of general-market books are not looking for a highly formal tone. Continue reading
Write the way you speak, only with more polish.
You may need to unlearn a lot that you learned in college about writing. Teachers teach academic writing, which tends to be dry, fact-focused, and concerned more with making a point than crafting elegant sentences.
☐ The narrative voice draws the reader into the text.
☐ The author’s voice and approach are fresh.
To develop an authorial voice that is engaging and fresh, imagine you are writing a letter to your reader. Continue reading
Last time I talked about the importance of reading widely. Now, my list of books read for last year looks pretty puny compared to some. But it’s a diverse list, so I’m OK with that.
I once sat in a meeting with a potential client who was looking for a ghostwriter. He admitted to me, “I really don’t read much.”
Which explains why he was unable to write his book by himself. Continue reading