Archive for April, 2011

Verbs Create Active Voice

One of the things that puts readers to sleep almost instantly is passive voice. Passive voice is writing without ownership. It’s the preference of bureaucracy, business, and academics. If there’s no ownership, there’s no accountability. There’s also no action.

Think about how excited people are to get their hands on the latest government regulation, the latest policy manual, or the latest thesis and you’ve got an idea about how excited they will be to get their hands on your book if you write using passive voice.

The key to avoiding passive voice comes in verb choice. Passive verbs are the forms of “to be.” Examples include is, are, was, were, has, had, have, etc. These are also known as telling verbs. They’re boring, but safe.

Remember basic grammar? What does a verb do? It shows action. Start using verbs the way they are intended to be used.

Too often writers spend their writing capital on adjectives and nouns. But verbs get things done and create reader interest.

If I ask you to write a sentence around a noun or an adjective, you could. But you’ll most likely write a more interesting sentence around an active verb. Try writing a sentence using the adjective “gorgeous.” Now try it using the noun “computer.” Finally, try it using the verb “tumbled.” While you can write interesting sentences around each of those words, I expect the last one came to you easiest. (By the way, I don’t intend you to use all three words in the same sentence, but you probably could.)

So how do you find active verbs? Read. When you find a verb that jumps out at you, capture it in a notebook. I found clobber and pummel that way. Both verbs are interesting because they’re fresh and not overused.

Active verbs can also become tired. Some that come to mind are typically found in clichés or overused phrases. Example: A shot rang out. It’s much more interesting to say,  “A shot pierced the air.”

Give your reader a fresh active verb once in a while and you’ll create a fan.

Happy writing!


Writing Children’s Books is Harder Than You Think

You’ve probably noticed that topics come in waves–we hear about something for a while, then something else takes it place. And so it is in book publishing.

We’ve received numerous calls from authors writing children’s books in the past few weeks. During our conversations, it often becomes apparent the writer has a story idea, so what does the writer need to do to get started?

The first thing I ask them is what age group are they writing for. They typically aren’t sure, but they know they need an illustrator. So we discuss ways to find an illustrator.

Then I ask them about the storyline. They typically have a moral to the story that Mom and Dad (or some adult in the story) teach the child.

At this point I know the writer doesn’t know much about writing for children. As one editor from a children’s publishing house told me, “There’s too much adult in the children’s stories submitted to us.” When asked to say more, she said, “The adults have all the knowledge, and the adults solve all the problems. In children’s books, the kids should make the discoveries and should figure out how to solve the problems, not the adults.”

I’ve taken her comments a step further and told children’s book writers to “Think Charlie Brown cartoons.” We never see an adult. We don’t even hear what the adults are saying–they only say “Wah, wah, wah, wah.” The kids have all the experiences and do the  learning, creating, solving, etc. And that’s as it should be in children’s books. Kids should be encouraged to think and participate.

Add that children’s books are age specific, and children’s book writers face another issue–word choice. The words need to be age-appropriate. Even if Mom and Dad are reading the book to the child, the words used should be words the child understands.

It’s normal to think  writing children’s books is easy. It is not. Every word counts, and it counts from the perspective of the child, not the adult.

Writing children’s books is harder than you think, but if you do it well, you may change a young life by planting seeds that blossom into a long life of loving reading.

Happy writing!