Tuesday, August 26, 2008

To Be or Not To Be...

I've been hearing lots of comments about "the passive" voice 'to be' in writing. I think I get it, but then sometimes I am about to use the verb 'is' and I think, OH NO! The passive voice!

For those of you who might not be familiar with this... most editors today do not want writers using the passive forms of the verb 'to be,' that is to say, is, are, were, etc.

So a sentence like, We are driving to my sister's would be considered passive because of the helping verb 'are' coupled with the 'ing' ending of the verb 'drive.' (that's a double whammy, BTW) (Personally, we used to call that the present participle and it was fine to use in school. As a matter of fact, we had to learn HOW to use it and were tested on it. And now, we're not allowed to use it...)

So I've been reading up on the Passive Voice and how to avoid it. One article I read was pretty helpful. It stated that most times the verb 'to be' pops up when you are using the object of the action as the subject of the sentence. For example...

Why was the road crossed by the chicken...

In this example the road is used as the subject, not as the direct object.

Why did the chicken cross the road...

Now chicken is in the proper place as the subject of the sentence, cross is the active verb and road is following the verb, as it should be, as the direct object.

This example has helped me most of the time, but not all of the time. When I see an 'is' or 'are' in my work, I stop and ask if my subject is in the proper place. If not, switching it around, is an easy fix.

But let's go back to my original example...

We are driving to my sister's.

In this sentence, We is the subject and are driving is the verb (with helping verb in present participle). How else can you say a sentence like this without the passive voice? First if you delete the helping verb 'are' you can then say...

We drove to my sister's.


We drive to my sister's.

It is just more direct, I guess...

When I look at my writing, it is this type of passive voice I am riddled with. I get completely stuck sometimes and can't seem to figure out how to turn it around.

What about you? How do you avoid the passive voice? Do you have any tricks of the trade? Have you been able, at this point, to avoid the passive voice in an almost unaware state? Or do you still struggle to catch yourself in the act???

Here are other writing no-nos

  1. The Passive Voice

  2. ING endings

  3. Adverbs in general. (The thought is, if your verb needs to be modified than you chose a weak verb)

  4. (which brings me to...) Weak Verbs

  5. Only Use Said (I've also heard you are only supposed to say "said." for example, Joe said. Not Joe exploded... Joe whispered... Joe exclaimed... This one I am not ready to give up. My general rule is, most of the time I say "said" but when it is called for, I used a more descriptive tag. My daughter's teacher last year gave out an award for the student who had the most synonyms for said (my daughter won BTW) and they were not allowed to use the word "said" in their creative writing at all. What is going on? Everything we are taught in school is thrown out the window when you become a writer!?)

What do you think about all these rules?

I don't think Shakespeare, Papa Hemingway, or any of the other great classic writers worried about such things. When did words and parts of speech become taboo?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Adventure Thursday - Cape May

Can you hear it? Can you hear the sound of these baby clams all clamoring to dig their way back into the cool, moist sand? ... the sound the sea makes when it passes over the clams and sand? ...the sound the water makes as it finds air holes and seeps in deep below? Ahhhh... there's no feeling like being at the beach, hearing the sounds of the sea...

Some of my favorite things about the beach...

Toes in sand...

The sound of the rolling waves, the feel and smell of the ocean breezes...

And sunsets reflecting in the
ocean's surface.

Now onto a different topic...

OK, I finished reading this book while at the beach. I thought this was my absolute favorite. Now, I'm not so sure. I thought perhaps because it was the only book in the series I had read before seeing the movie and so I was able to make predictions and feel that joy of reading. To me, reading is an action-packed verb, not a passive one. It's not just sitting back and scanning your eyes over words. It's thought-provoking, brain stimulating, ponder-inducing... At least it should be.

While reading, I stuck notes in pages making my predictions about things foreshadowed, SURE I would predict the ending correctly. I felt smart.
Here's what I learned...
  1. You CANNOT predict the ending of any JK Rowling books. My prediction was dead-on. But what JK does is... well, something like muggle magic. She waves her left hand saying, look here, look here, all the while her right hand is doing something completely different and unnoticed by the reader.
  2. While, as a writer, you want your reader to be able to make predictions and feel successful about them, you don't want them to feel, either a.) that the prediction was too easy or b.) that it was impossible to figure it out. There is a fine line here between letting your readers down on either side of this spectrum.

I felt let down.

I am an adult and feel I am astute at making predictions in books and movies. There are very few that I have not been able to figure out. It is like a brain massage for me. I don't want it to be insultingly easy. I want to put pieces together and remember facts and feel challenged. And at the end, I want a pay-off for my dedication and hard work. I want to feel successful. Maybe there will be one or two things that will surprise me, but complete shock! I actually don't like it. It makes me feel like the writer just wrote that ending, was holding out information, and did that only to shock the reader at the end.

For my erroneous prediction, highlight this paragraph (I learned this from Beth) This IS a spoiler to book six... I thought Malfoy was bitten by Greyback Fenrir - the werewolf responsible for turning Lupin into a werewolf. She kept making reference to him and how he liked to bite boys when they were young. It seemed too obvious that Malfoy really had the Dark Mark on his arm and that his master really was Voldemort. Also, it seemed too obvious that Snape was truly on the Dark Lord's side. So it's not so much that I didn't see that coming, as I guess, it was too obvious...

You CANNOT predict endings with JK Rowling. Her endings are so far out of left field, there is no way you can figure it out. And I think she purposefully throws you off by making you think it is one thing and then you find out it is something completely different. For me, I didn't feel like, "OHHHHH! That's what it was!" I felt like. "Now how was anyone supposed to figure that out?" I don't believe she seeds her stories at all and I think she does this on purpose so you can be shocked at her endings. It goes against EVERYTHING we are told by editors. We are told... make sure you properly seed and foreshadow. JK obviously does not do that.

I've been told I will NEVER be able to figure out book seven. At first I felt challenged by those who believed, finally a book will stump me. But now I feel like, yeah, I probably won't because JK doesn't play by the same rules the rest of us play by. Which makes you wonder, doesn't it??? After all she does live in a castle in Scotland. So, she broke all the rules of writing and there she sits on her throne for doing so.

And my last topic of the day...

Danette Haworth's Violet Raines Almost got Struck by Lightning. I had heard it was out in bookstores and so I needed to buy HP Deathly Hallows, so I couldn't wait to see Danette's book there too.

I ran to my local Barnes and Noble and searched the shelves. I couldn't find it. Then I heard, "Look Mommy, isn't that it?" And there it was... on a DISPLAY with other newly released books... FACE OUT! That's right folks, FACE OUT. I took pictures but they all came out dark and blurry :(

Those of you who are not writers, don't understand, face out is a big deal. I've spoken to the lady who runs the children's section of our Borders about this very topic. She told me she is given strict orders how to present books. So, obviously, Borders in NJ wanted it FACE OUT, Danette! I snatched up my copy and the Deathly Hallows and ran to the check out counter wanting to yell to everyone, I "know" this writer. She is one of my blogger friends. You should buy her book. Buy three while you're at it.

Meanwhile, my girls and I put names in a hat to see who got to read it first. I lost. I'll have to move on to Deathly Hallows for now... Congrats Danette! (from Rowling to Haworth...) We are all so proud of you and vicariously living through you at the same time!

Enjoy what's left of summer!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'm off!

So, I'm off to Cape May, NJ and won't be checking into the blog-o-sphere for a while.

Don't forget to vote for your favorite Harry Potter Book. I am almost done with the 6th one - The Half Blood Prince - this is the quickest it's ever taken me to read Harry. Next, the question will be... read the final book, or start reading Twilight...

Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Adventure Thursdays (and Wednesday)

Adventure Thursday couldn't be contained into one day this week, so it oozed out onto Wednesday and then carried over into Thursday.
First it began here...

At the Philadelphia Zoo and...

...the incredible dripping tree.

Have you ever seen anything like this? Since my MG novel has a lot to do with trees, I think this was my favorite visual at the Zoo.

But then these were also very cute too...

Thursday brought us back to Philly to this thrilling place...

The Franklin Institute.

Just in case you wanted to know, my body presently holds 20 cups of blood...

The Franklin Institute was chock full of fascinating facts and hands-on touch-me exhibits that made learning an adventure for kids (and adults). After all, it was Adventure Thursday (still wish I could have an echo machine when I type that...)
On display was a real automaton like in Hugo Cabret - one of my favorite books. (But in real life the automaton was a little creepy looking.)

They had so many things to see and do there, I couldn't name them all. My youngest daughter's favorite was the space prep ride - can't recall the real name, but it twisted and turned and spun and I felt sick just looking at it. But screams of joy and jubilation were heard from within the capsule.

The coolest visual to me in the Franklin Institute was the Pendulum Staircase....

Where will our adventures take us this Thursday? Can't say for sure... You'll have to stay tuned to find out.

Hey, check out my cool poll, above to the right... Vote for your fav Harry Potter book. And after, leave a comment to tell us why...

My fav is the sixth book - The Half Blood Prince. I haven't yet read book number seven, so that might change, but for now it is the HBP. Why? Well, it might be because it is the first HP book I have read BEFORE seeing the movie... But I think it is the most well written, the fat has been trimmed, so it feels like every page moves the story forward. I am LOVING it.

When commenting, please don't spoil any endings for those of us whom have not read any HP books yet.

Thanks and Happy Adventures!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Writer Duldrums and Your Starting-outs

I'm having a bit of the writer doldrums. My writing buddy is away in the middle of the woods somewhere with no cell service or computer service. And good for her, she deserves it! She's been away before and I've still done my list of writing goals and gone on without her with no problem. But today is different.

Maybe because it's a chilly Monday for the middle of August and I've been up late and woke early to read The Half Blood Prince - my favorite Harry Potter of all, so far.

But I feel down right down.

Maybe because I was sick over the weekend and my lingering mood is left-over virus, but still... I can't seem to shake my low spirits.

Like I said, I was reading Half Blood Prince this morning and marveling at how JK just keeps turning and twisting her stories and how she never ceases to amaze and surprise me. And then I started thinking about Stephenie Meyer and The Twilight series, and then I started reading all of your lovely blogs - most of you are already contracted and have second and third books on the way, have agents, and editors, and line edits to do, etc. And well, I guess I am having a pity party.

So, I need to turn that around right now... Enough of that! And you can all help me...

See, all of you, including JK and Stephenie, at one time in your career paths, had only a rough idea of your stories. You had a first draft or maybe even a second or third draft and not much more. You didn't have an agent yet, or interest from an editor. We all start out at the same place -- the beginning -- the time before a polished, clean 6th draft, the time before an agent, the time before a contract... I want to know about that time to help lift my spirits and give me hope, remind me that we all begin at the beginning.

So, if you will humor me, remember back, way back, to when this was all just a huge, fantastic dream and you were writing your first novel. Maybe you had never even written one before. It was sometimes a dark and murky experience with flashes of light and inspiration. Can you remember that time?

What did it feel like when you finally finished that first draft of your first novel? What was your big moment like when you knew, after many revisions, that your novel was as good as it was going to get without an agent's notes? When did you know it was ready to send off to an agent? How did you meet your agents? Did they love your story right away, or at first say no? What was the turning point for you when being a children's author became a reality and not just a dream?

If you don't mind sharing, please stroll down memory lane with me and tell me about your starting-outs as writers. I would love to hear about it and know that each of you were once where I stand now, with your nose pressed against the glass peaking in on contracted writer's lives, hoping, dreaming, and praying -- a lot of praying...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Adventure Thursdays

Rebecca reminded me in one of her recent posts that I had made promises. I make the same promises every summer, in fact. And every summer comes and goes and those promises are left as best intentions that paved the way to... well to a very uneventful summer.

Let me explain... we usually can't afford to go away on expensive vacations and we can't afford luxury camps - OK most camps - for our kids. But that's OK. We like being home. However, every summer I say to myself, this summer will be different. This summer I will go where ever my kids want to go (within reason, of course!) and we will take day trips to Philadelphia and go to museums, and to the creek, and the beach... and where ever their hearts desire.

But the summer just kind of takes a momentum of its own and before I know it, there are little more than 3 weeks left and we have done none of those things. So....

We have established Adventure Thursdays (cue echo machine) here at the Oshins' household. There are 4 Thursdays left so each child gets to be the boss of two of them.

Yesterday, we went here...

I always say 'no' when my kids ask to go here. But it was... Adventure Thursday... and Adventure Thursday is all about saying 'yes.' (again, within reason). So, they climbed and jumped and scouted and did all sorts of things.

And then they went here...

And did this...

And this...

And this...

This was so cool! It was a virtual jump rope. A lot harder then it sounds. I didn't do so well on it, but I laughed hard trying!

And then they they bought these with the tickets they won....
I'd say all in all, it was a very fun and adventurous Adventure Thursday. So, give it a try, pick a day out of the week that is a 'yes' day and try to say yes to all the things we tend to say no to. After all, we certainly can't write about Adventures if we don't experience them...
Happy Writing (and Adventures!)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Summer's Almost Over, but it's Not to Late to Enter...

Two Contests to check out...

Keri Mikulski is holding a WHY I LIKE/DISLIKE AUGUST book give-away contest.

And WOW! is holding a flash fiction contest.

Both deadlines are August 31...

Good Luck!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Violent Movies No More and Writing Buddy Goals Week Six

Do you guys subscribe to Netflix? I love Netflix. I really do. I am a total movie buff and have seen so many movies, but my problem is I can never remember the titles months later. So, sometimes I rent a movie I have already seen but won't remember this until some climatic moment when inevitably I will say... "Wait a minute. I remember this movie. This is the one where she is really from the past but stuck in the present and then she kills him and Ugh, I hated this movie the first time I saw it!"

So, maybe I have an early stage of Alzheimer's... What's your point?
Anyway... this weekend was my husband's turn so we watched his movie. Granted, my husband and I have very different tastes in movies. He likes action adventure and I like Sundance winners, or Independents... you know the free-thinking artsy kind of films. Sometimes, I will enjoy his picks and (more than) sometimes he likes mine - although it is hard for him to admit... (especially when he is snoring, but I digress...)

This weekend he chose Untraceable. Have you seen it? The premise is there is a website where some poor, unsuspecting kitten, or human, has been kidnapped and then murdered live on this site; the more viewers, the quicker the animal or person is killed. It was graphic and disturbing to say the least. Of course viewership soars and people are killed more quickly and in more and more gruesome and unthinkable ways.

When it was over here were my thoughts
  1. Never again will I give up my time to watch a film about violence towards any living species. I just can't handle it, nor do I want to fill up any bit of my time with these images.

  2. As a writer... WHO WRITES THESE THINGS AND WHY???? With all the negativity and violence in the real world, why devote your talents to producing more of that in forms of "entertainment?" I just don't get it. I want my talent to have a positive affect on people, not gross them out and think we live in a sick and twisted world. We do, unfortunately. That's true. But which came first? Once we started putting this stuff all over TV, movies, books, we became desensitized to it. And, in my opinion, as a result, our world continually grows in violence at an alarming rate.

  3. I'm now scared of all of you! I'm kidding of course, but shish, this movie was all about your vulnerability BECAUSE of the Internet and blogging... It's made me re-think a couple things about blogging and being so reachable online... *shivers*

What I concluded (and I told my husband this too), I will no longer give any of my time or energy to watch unnecessary violence in movies. I am just not interested. I feel like I have to protect my... my... energy, if you will. I will no longer welcome that into my "space." Does that make sense? I have been doing everything in my power, reading, meditating, surrounding myself with like-minded people etc. to create a positive world in which to live. I don't need a movie to then take that away, even if for just two hours.


I have given up forcing myself to do what doesn't come naturally to me. I write September to June. I always have. And I don't think that will ever change. I love having the summers with my kids and I want to continue that.

For the remainder of the summer, I will be focusing on researching and outlining and I feel good about that. So, here are my goals...

  1. I need to outline and research this week about my "other world" in my story. I was told by Agent Guy (and yes, he did have some valid and not so hurtful things to say), that my fantasy element is not fully realized. And doggone it, he was right! So this week I am going to really delve into my "other world" which has been staring me in the face all this time. DUH! This is where my fully realized fantasy world can live. So I need to figure out: A) how to get there that doesn't sound too much like taking a narcotic!!! B) what everyone's forms will be when in that realm C) how to fight my antagonist in this realm without Harry Potter chasing (no easy task...)

  2. Honestly number 1 will take up most of my week. But I will be plugging away on research. I need to find out more about specific trees... i.e. medicinal uses, mythical connections, and what pests are particularly dangerous for them.

  3. UGH! Finish my daughter's dresser. Last week I let that goal go to the dreaded, ever-present, unspoken goal of WEEDING!!!! The weeds have taken over my life! But this weekend, my husband and kids had the backbreaking task of once and for all getting ahead of the weeds! And I must say, we did. We fought and prevailed! Our flower gardens are beautiful once more. Yay! So back to the dresser. I need to: A) buy white and pink paint B) put on a layer of crackle glaze over the black paint. C) apply white paint D) apply pink paint in key areas E) sand in key areas to give it that antique look F) buy new knobs G) put knobs on.

  4. Buy locker organizers for child #1. A middle schooler this year and a soon-to-be locker owner. Child #1 will definitely need organization things as this is cherub's number 1 issue. She has picked out something she loves in Pottery Barn, but yikes the price! So off to surf looking for something similar but not so pricey.

  5. Make sure backpacks and lunch boxes can withstand another year of abuse and if not replace. Last year I waited too long and everything was back ordered until December. Not this year, I'm on top of it!

  6. ENJOY the summer while it lasts. Soon it will be gone.

And those are my goals for this week. But let's discuss how you feel about watching violence in movies and TV. Do you think it is in some ways more acceptable in books because it is your own imagination putting in the gore and details? Are you not bothered by it at all either way? What do you think?

Happy Writing Everyone!

“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous