Passive Verbs

Here are three sentence patterns. It is the third one that I’d like to talk about most today.

  1. We met this one in the previous post, basically the subject and the verb. We can add modifiers to make it more interesting.

The wintery sky changed dramatically.

  1. The subject, verb, and a direct object.

The dog bit his master.

  1. The subject and a passive voice verb (a verb that does not take a direct object. In fact, if we use sentence #2 as an example, the former object (the master) becomes the subject and the former subject (the dog) becomes the object. The passive verb tells us that something has been done to the subject.

Examples:

The master was bitten by the dog.

The house was built by the carpenter.

The car was driven by Anneli.

***Note that the passive voice (as in the examples above) is not usually the preferred choice for writers of novels. The active voice makes for much better drama. Consider these two ways of writing:

Passive:

The Corolla was driven up the new highway by Marlie. A bear was seen by her. The car was being parked at the side of the road by Marlie. The camera was picked up by her shaking hands. Just then, she was charged by the bear.

Active:

Marlie drove up the Corolla up the new highway. She saw a bear. Marlie parked the car at the side of the road. Her shaking hands picked up the camera. Just then, the bear charged her.

Conclusion:

The passive voice works well in some cases, and has its uses, but for the most part, the active verb form is better. In some cases, the passive verb form is best.

For example, we use the passive verb if something happened to someone but we don’t know who did it:

My neighbour was robbed.

The pedestrian was knocked over.

The money was taken.

Take care to check your verb forms and only use the passive form if it is called for. Needless use of the passive verb form takes the punch out of your writing.

Advertisements

Grammar – Sentences

dscn0116.jpg

 

When we write, it is mainly to communicate, usually for business dealings, friendly greetings, or entertainment.

The main structure of our written language involves speaking or writing in sentences. Sometimes we can get away with using sentence fragments, a word or two to get the meaning across, or to emphasize something, but more often when we want no misunderstanding, especially in business, we use complete sentences.

With so many people texting, the use of conventional grammar and sentence structure is quickly falling away. Writing correctly is suddenly a bigger challenge than it once was.

I would like to offer a series of posts that discuss the use of “proper” grammar and sentence structure.

Today’s post is going to be simple, but we should start at the beginning.

What is a sentence?

We have sentences that serve various purposes.

Telling something or conveying an idea (declarative sentence):

My dog is a cocker spaniel.

Asking a question (interrogative sentence):

Do you like dogs?

Giving a command (imperative):

Feed my dog, please.

Expressing strong feeling (exclamatory sentence):

Watch out for the car!

 

In the declarative sentence we have two parts to the sentence; the subject and the predicate. The subject is either a noun or a pronoun (I, you, he, she, it, we, they), and the predicate is a verb.

Here are some examples. The subject is in red, and the predicate is in green.

Plants grow.

Children laugh.

They shout.

We run.

Those are pretty simple sentences. Often we use articles (a, an, the) in front of a noun. We also add modifiers to describe the nouns. These are called adjectives. Modifiers that describe the verb are called adverbs.

In the examples below, the adjectives will be blue and the adverbs will be orange.

The tropical plants grow vigorously.

The happy children laugh heartily.

 

More about sentence structure next time.

Sentences Without Torture

Have you ever tried to read a book that had long sentences throughout? I say “tried” because it takes effort. By the time we get to the end of the sentence, we may be struggling to remember the beginning. To me, a sentence like that is punishment. But authors should not be condemning readers to this kind of sentence.

I opened “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville and chose a page at random. The first sentence on that page had 88 words. As I scanned the pages I saw many more extremely long sentences. “Moby Dick” did not become a classic without merit, but in today’s fast-moving world, do we really want to work that hard to enjoy a novel? I used Melville’s novel only because it was handy. Many authors of his period wrote in that style.

Nowadays, through technology, we are bombarded by huge amounts of information passed on in short flashes—TV ads, newsbytes, texting, twitter. In this environment, how can writers find a middle ground, conveying our thoughts effectively as we hold the reader’s interest?

They say “Variety is the spice of life.” It is also the spice needed for good writing.

First, get rid of the extremely long sentences. Usually, those with 15 to 25 words are considered to be long. Once in a while, we may need more words, but be careful. Do you ramble on as you write? Try rewriting extra-long sentences to be more concise. Do you repeat yourself? Go back and axe unneeded words.

For example, the first sentence is wordy, while the second conveys the same information in fewer words.

  1. “I would like to know if your book will be written as a non-fiction version of the events, or will it be fictionalized?”
  2. “Will your book relate the events as non-fiction or fiction?”

Beware of the opposite problem, though. While too many long sentences make for tedious reading, too many short ones can give your work a choppy feeling. Remember to vary the length.

Vary the rhythm of the sentence structure as well. Throw in a question if appropriate. Why not? It may catch the reader’s attention and keep him interested.

If you want a sentence to stand out from the rest, you can set it off as a short paragraph by itself.

Another possibility is to use it to begin or end a paragraph. A general rule of thumb is to begin with your second-most-important sentence. Place the relevant explanation in the middle and save the best one for last.

Now that we have a good mix of sentences, what about the impact of the words in them? Most sentences have one keyword that is the most important component of the thought. We want to emphasize that word to give our writing the punch it needs. For the most part, readers remember the first and the last words best, but especially the last.

Consider these examples:

“Fifteen top music stars played in a concert at the new theater.” The new theater is what stands out most.

“The concert in the new theater hosted fifteen top music stars.” The fifteen top music stars are emphasized more. Choose your emphasis, depending on the idea you are trying to convey.

In a simplified formula, here are some basic guidelines for writing a good paragraph:

  • vary your sentence length and structure,
  • place your sentences in strategic positions in your paragraph (beginning, middle, or end), and
  • arrange the phrasing to place keywords near the end of your sentence.

New and improved paragraphs will be the result, if you follow some of these guidelines.

Or, changing the emphasis, “If you follow some of these guidelines, you will have new and improved paragraphs.”

To find out more about Anneli Purchase, follow these links:

Anneli’s Website

Twitter
Facebook
Blog

anneli-new-footer-c-1024x652-1

Keywords and Clustering

Writing is basically a way of putting thoughts on paper. Our aim is to organize those thoughts cohesively for the reader to understand. Over time, many methods have been developed to help us transfer thoughts from our brain to paper or computer screen, and into the brain of the reader.

As I struggled to come up with a plan for the next scene of my work in progress, I remembered a basic method that worked well for me in the past. When too many thoughts are crowding my head, I like to organize them using “clustering,” sometimes  called “webbing.” It has been around for a few decades, but it is still a wonderful tool.

We all know about keywords. We use them in web searches all the time. One main word will trigger many other related words and ideas. In clustering we use keywords to trigger associations. The beauty of using keywords is that you don’t have to write whole sentences in order to remember the thoughts associated with them.

To organize your thoughts, start with a keyword for the main topic of your scene. Close your eyes and imagine that word. What thoughts come to mind? Choose a keyword from one of those thoughts and write it down, Circle it and link it to the main keyword. Do this for each of the ideas that come to you when you think about the main keyword.

Below you can see how I used clustering to come up with ideas about Tenedos Bay, the setting of my scene. Associated with that keyword, I have come up with five lesser keywords (like subheadings): rocky islets, trail, other boats, shelter, and forest. When I think of each of these in turn, more ideas come to me and I jot those keywords down, linking them to the origin of the thought. Once I have done that for each of the main keywords, I end up with five groupings of ideas. Now I’m ready to write.

img750I may not use all of the ideas that I jotted down, but it’s better to have more than I need than not enough. If you were using this particular cluster map, you might want to make some sentences about the trail to Unwin Lake. You can follow the links in that series of mini clusters and build your sentence from the keywords, adding any of the associations that you had in mind as you wrote them down. Using “rocks, roots, well worn,” and “Unwin Lake” you might come up with a sentence like: I followed the well-worn rocky trail to Unwin Lake taking care not to trip over tree roots that crossed the path.

Two shorter sentences would probably be better, but you get the idea of using the cluster words in your writing. Once you have your basic idea written, you can play with the sentence to make it better until you’re happy with it.

You can elaborate on these ideas until you’ve reached into the farthest recesses of your mind to pull out every associated idea that you feel is relevant, and when you’ve finished, you have a paragraph of sentences that are all related to the keyword “trail.”

Each of the groupings will make a good paragraph. Your thoughts will be organized and no longer be mistaken for scrambled eggs in word form.

If you haven’t tried clustering, why not give it a try just for fun?