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The path of a writer.
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#758155 added August 9, 2012 at 7:09pm
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The Writing Voice (and a bit of ranting).
I've never attempted one of these before so I'm not certain how to begin. Well, that's not entirely true. I started a journal once but it didn't pan it. It was written in 3rd person and it fizzled away. I just found the notebook I wrote the journal in: 16 pages. I guess it didn't fizzle out too badly after all. Regardless, it fizzled because it focused too much on explaining experiences I've had and not on what I'm interested in, writing. Now I suppose a good blog ought to talk about the person doing the writing, but I don't find myself an intriguing enough subject to go on about in depth. Instead I think I'll talk about my writing and throw an entry in here or there that tells a little something about myself or my experiences.

As a self-proclaimed writer, reviewer, proofreader, etc., if there's a single lesson I've learned, it's this: always be improving. It may not be the most elegant of phrases, but the lesson is a valuable one. As writers, reviewers, etc., if we are not spending time learning new ways of writing, new rules of grammar, or relearning things we think we know that we often don't, we will never improve. Today I want to talk about voice. Or more specifically, writing voice. Some of you may have seen this phrase in reviews. Avoid writing in a passive voice. While that's sound advice, if you've never tackled the issue of passive voice, you likely have no idea how to respond to the comment. Okay, so how does one avoid writing in a passive voice? For the longest time I didn't know the answer to that one either. While I understood, at least conceptually, the difference between writing in an active voice and writing in a passive voice, I had no idea how to implement those changes. Writing in an active voice requires you approach your writing in a concise, direct manner. Avoid being verbose. Show, don't tell. Get on with it. And all that jazz.

New paragraph, because, well, I can't stand uber-long paragraphs. I wrote an article called Writing and Editing Advice (see, I told you I'd be talking about my writing) which attempts to give sound advice on how to write and review. For the most part, it's received positive response, but every now and then I'm told it tries to encompass too much, or some of the concepts are common sense and don't need to be focused on because everyone knows those rules. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Most people don't have common sense, well they do, but what you or I think is common sense may differ greatly from the next person's view of common sense. So while I agree I might be focusing on too many things at once, I whole-hardily disagree that there are any hard and fast rules that everyone knows.

A sound principle, which I borrowed from Stephen King's On Writing, is avoid the adverb whenever possible. Adverbs are bad, those stupid little modifiers are destroying writing as we know it! No, I'm not quoting Stephen King, I'm trying to add a little levity, keep this blog from getting too dry. If you don't like it, there's the door, I'm sure there are plenty of other blogs out there that you won't find so contrary. Go on, leave, I can wait.

Alright then, for those of you who stuck with me, we were talking about the evils of adverbs (and by we I mean me, unless of course you reply via review or email, it which case it's a happy we). Adverbs are a bane because they are overused. An adverb, for those unfamiliar with it's meaning, is (according to the 1st result on google) a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a phrase, expressing a relation of place, time. They have a tendency to end in -ly if that helps any. Basically it takes a word or phrase and either enhances its meaning or alters it. Now some may ask why are adverbs so evil, why must they be avoided at all costs? Don't misunderstand me. What I meant to say was, adverbs are evil, avoid them at all costs... except for when they're not. Confusing? Yes I know, I'll explain shortly.

A recent reviewer of Writing and Editing Advice (see, I'm talking about my writing again) saw my comments on adverbs, and let's just say we're in a bit of a disagreement. The essence of her comments boil down to this: Adverbs are gems. They are the practical making of Sir Arthur Connon Doyle's short stories with Sherlock Holmes at the helm. Try a few of those and maybe you'll begin to show the wonderful adverb a bit of honor, you ill-mannered, conceited bore! Okay, so she didn't really call me an ill--mannered, conceited bore, but that would have been something, wouldn't it? I kid because it's more interesting that way. Just to clarify things before we move on, I don't disagree with everything the review said. There's validity to the review. Perhaps I could have explained my view on minimizing adverbs better, but honestly, I wrote this: This does not mean that adverbs are always unnecessary. By all means use them when they add something to the text, but use them wisely. Does that or does that not say that adverbs can be useful if used correctly?

Let's try again shall we: Adverbs are gems. They are the practical making of Sir Arthur Connon Doyle's short stories with Sherlock Holmes at the helm. Try a few of those and maybe you'll begin to show the wonderful adverb a bit of honor. If a word is inside a dictionary common sense shows it is preferable to use when searching for vocab gems in order to capture sound (style) or simply to impress. No. No no no no no no no. Oh, and did I mention... no. 1st off, the average writer on writing.com is nowhere near the level of Arthur Conan Doyle so it's hardly a fair comparison. 2nd, I have used and will continue to use adverbs so trust me, I know when and how to show adverbs a bit of honor. Take a look at the 1st off sentence. Look, there, right there! I used the word hardly to modify a fair comparison so that the sentence says it's not a fair comparison, reversing its original meaning. That's how you honor an adverb, by using it correctly. See, I did it again. I modified using it with correctly. Why? Because an adverb shouldn't be used just because, it should be used at the right time and the right place. Wow, that was a lengthy 2nd. 3rd, I'm going to quote this one again because I'm having some serious issues here: If a word is inside a dictionary common sense shows it is preferable.... Really? Let's test that theory shall we?

New paragraph, because, as I said earlier, I hate long paragraphs. So let's test this theory: if a word is inside a dictionary common sense shows it is preferable to use when searching for vocab gems in order to capture sound (style) or simply to impress. First off, what did I say about common sense! What did I say! Your common sense and my common sense are not the same. Just because you think something is common sense, doesn't mean it is. People aren't stupid, they're just stupid when it comes to certain things, and what they are stupid with varies by the person. What do you mean you don't understand what a quadratic equation is? That's common sense! See what I mean? That's not common sense, but some people think it is.

So please, please do not tell me my comma section is a brief turn back to basics for punctuation. Maybe you had a first rate education. Maybe you were studious. Don't assume everyone has your level of understanding or grasps the basics as easily as you do. That's not the way things work. Do not tell me my article on writing and editing can help middle schoolers who are starting out with English Composition. Seriously? You know how many adults read this article and found it useful, said they learned a few things they weren't familiar with? Yet you have the audacity to say it'd be useful for middle schoolers starting out with English Composition! You're basically calling every single adult, who thought this was useful, either stupid or uneducated.

I'm ranting. Back to the subject at hand. To prove once and for all that just because a word is in the dictionary, doesn't mean it should be used, I am extracting 5 words chosen at random, and using it to describe a trip to the zoo. Here goes: I went to the zoo with the czar today, to see the hopper exhibit. But the savage found the display uninteresting and used a tappet, and a vane came crashing down, closing it off from further view. So while it's possible to use any and all words in the dictionary, and succeed in writing a coherent story, I don't recommend it. Granted, it's not a fair comparison as the reviewer was talking about words being used for real sentence constructs, not random words pulled from a dictionary.

I'll try to be fair this time, I'll use an example of something I've written. I started writing a journal once before but it didn't pan it. This was the 3rd line of the blog, but I pared it down to this: I started a journal once but it didn't pan it. Both sentences say the same thing. While there's nothing wrong with either, if I can get the same point across in less words, without losing any of the inflection, do I really need to keep the extra words? Now lets explain the adverb thing clearly, with examples. Good examples: I cried happily (the adverb changes the meaning from something sad to something happy) , I breathed heavily (I'm still breathing, but heavily tells me I'm doing so with difficulty), I ran slowly (I must be out of shape or hurt if my running pace is so slow), I shouted drunkenly (*hiccup* I get a little boisterous when I'm drunk), I whispered loudly (I thought whispers were always quite? Not when you add the modifying adverb loudly! It changes its meaning). Bad examples: I cried sadly (really you're crying and your sad? I would never have known that had you not told me you were doing so sadly!), I shouted loudly (duh, shouts are generally loud, unless you have a weak voice), I climbed up (climbing is considered an upward motion unless specified otherwise), I huzzahed joyously (come now, how can you huzzah in a way that isn't joyous, it's implied so there's no need to state joyously), I thought thoughtfully (If I need to explain why this last one is bad, you're writing is, in all likelihood, godawful).

While I'm at it, let's throw in a one last comment: Lastly, tearing things to shreds hardly ever works. Low word counts are bad enough especially as the flash fiction ken for digial or e-writing took off by about 2001. If I talk about tearing to shreds before low words counts, this paragraph won't work, so I'm going to approach this one backwards: there is nothing wrong with low word counts. I've seen some incredibly written flash fiction, so short that I can't figure out how those writers managed to write such powerful stories with such vivid description in so few words. If you can write an amazing story in 100 words that tells the same story as a 500 word story without any loss in detail or inflection, then you don't need to, nor should you write it in 500. Now back to tearing to shreds: I'm sure she didn't think I literally meant tear to shreds, but just in case, I was figuratively speaking. I heartily disagree. I've had stories that I thought were awful or simply headed in the wrong direction. Now I know that once a writer has a concept, they want to use it, they don't want to throw it away. Tearing up a story doesn't always mean discarding a story. What I mean is that sometimes you have to take a story you're written and start anew. I reworked a short story entitled Fade Away to the point that I was practically writing it anew. There were people who liked it, but the story took the wrong direction. I tried to describe a scenario where a man was, for whatever reason, fading out of existence. The story, however, was fundamentally flawed. I forced the story and it gave a number of readers the wrong impression. A lot of them thought the man was sick and dying, which was the not what I was going for. So I tore it to shreds, figuratively speaking, and started anew. I've done many drafts, but I've lost count along the way. So let's call that revision unofficial draft # 2. Today, August 9th, 2012, I completed unofficial draft #3. It's the exact same story as draft #2 but it's pared down to rid it of much of the unnecessary words, useless adverbs, redundancies, verbosity, etc. The streamlined version is more concise and direct. It's free of much of the passive voice that once plagued it, and this 3rd person narrative now has a far more active voice. As it stands, I'm not satisfied with the 3rd draft either. Not because of verbosity or passive voice, but because of one frustrating comment I keep hearing over and over again: that the main character is a ghost. It's not a friggin' ghost story!!! Okay, give me a minute to breath. Let me calm down before I continue.

Okay, I'm relaxed now. FADE AWAY is not, nor has it ever been a ghost story. It's a story of a man so dissociated with the world around him, that he literally fades away. His connection to the world evaporates because he doesn't have any real connection to anything or anyone around him. And that, at least in my humble opinion, makes for a far better story than if it were a ghost story. That being said, if it's being confused for a ghost story so often, I either have to change some details in the next draft, or drastically alter the story in a way that will leave no confusion.

Backtracking for a moment, to the unnamed reviewer whose comments are so vehemently protested against, I'm sorry if you were insulted, but try to see where I'm coming from. By all means, if I'm not clear enough in my writing, I want to know. If I've misstated something, I want to know. But to tell me my article focuses on common sense rules for middle schoolers is not a helpful remark and it's insulting to anyone who found it useful. And I assure, a number of those people are well educated, intelligent people, not middle schoolers beginning English composition. So know that while I find some of your advice useful, and I admit there's room for improvement, you are wrong about a great many things. When I get a chance, I will do my best to explain when an adverb should or shouldn't be used, and seeing as the metaphor is lost on some, I'll have to lose the line "tearing to shreds" and stick with redrafting and starting anew.

Well, as I said, I never attempted one of these better, so hope this goes over well. If I ranted more than I should have, this is a blog, it happens. If I was writing about a specific topic I'd be more focused. But this is me taking a stab at this blog thing, so I reserve the right to go off on tangents, express frustration, and shout loudly at things.


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