Wrong

Wow, what wild weather we’re watching!

Since the weather is so horrific (104 tornadoes reported since this morning, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa in Alabama extremely damaged tonight), this picture seemed fitting.

Also, it’s Administrative Professional’s Day!  I got nothing!  Well, one coworker said happy day, which was nice.  Thanks, dude.  :)

Don’t you hate when you’re reading something and you come to a hugely erroneous fact?  How about a gross misspelling?  When a paper makes a mistake, they print a correction.  When a writer makes a mistake and it gets into a published book, it’s a little more difficult to fix it.

Bloggers have the advantage of fluid editing; they can go back and fix posts whenever they want.  I had to correct my Q post.  I put costume for the dress of the Native American dancers I wrote about, and a Lakota friend kindly pointed out to me that I should have said outfit or regalia.  It’s fixed now.  Thanks, Istagi.

If a boo-boo gets into your book, there’s not a lot you can do but you’ll sure hear about it.  I’m not talking about copy editors changing a word so the sentence doesn’t scan, but factual errors or terminology mistakes like mine.  In a later edition, it might be corrected, especially if it’s a non-fiction book that is selling well.  I don’t really know.  Before you write something, it’s wise to check out your material.

I read a book not too long ago that had a great concept, but was riddled with factual errors, wrong words (affect for effect, sheesh) and outdated information.  It read as if the writer had simply lifted all his material off the Internet without checking anything.  I didn’t finish the book and gave it a firm thumbs-down in a written review.  It pained me to do it, but I had to.  I would get the same treatment if I released such a sloppy work and expected people to pay for it.

Do your research and you can avoid these mistakes.  Double-check facts and techniques.  This is especially important if you’re writing about law enforcement or something equally popular and frequently misstated.  It may take extra time but the accuracy will pay off in the end.  Your readers will not even notice that the story isn’t real, because it will feel real.  And if your work is non-fiction, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they will have the best information you can give them.

VERB!

Edited because in my first Batman example, someone pointed out the word “pounded” made them think of something other than hitting and resulted in unintentional hilarity!

Anybody remember this?

Schoolhouse Rock Verb: That’s What’s Happening!

If you don’t remember Schoolhouse Rock, you’re too young, and I’m truly sorry.  You missed out!

Verbs tell us like it is! They tell us what’s happening, what the character is doing.  How we use them makes the difference between exciting and boring, ho-hum writing.

What’s going on in this sentence?

  • The Joker was pummeled hard by Batman’s fist.  The crimson paint of his smile was enhanced by the blood from his mouth.

If you said, “Those sentences are passive,” congratulations.

Who is doing something in this passage?

Batman’s fist, or rather, Batman, since he pummels the Joker.  Joker just sits there and takes it.  Batman is the subject of the sentence, and Joker the object.  In passive construction, the subject of the sentence receives the action, instead of performing the action.

To keep the sentence from boring people to tears, you must remove the passive verbs and replace them with active verbs.  Active verbs tell readers what happens.  They have more flavor and color.

Using active verbs, the subject performs the action on the object, like this:

  • Batman pummeled the Joker.  Joker laughed.  Blood from his mouth enhanced his crimson-painted smile.

Batman acts upon Joker.  He does something.  The blood is the subject of the second sentence.  It adds to the red paint Joker likes to wear on his mouth.  The active sentences give a more dynamic feel to the passage, and we can see better what Batman is doing and how he does it.

Notice that the active construction takes fewer words.  Hard is unnecessary, because pummeled tells us how Batman hit Joker.  So is fist, since we know Batman pummels with his fists.  Active verbs tend to be more descriptive.

It’s not bad to use passive language sometimes.  It sounds more formal, for example, as in a police media liaison officer reading from a prepared statement.

  • The Joker was beaten by an unknown assailant.  It is believed the Batman may be responsible.

Official police reports are almost always written in passive language.  Besides formality, it maintains distance and a neutral tone.  Also, they don’t know who beat the Joker, so an actor is not present in the sentence.

  • All the stolen jewels were dissolved. (By what?  By who?  Again, we don’t know.)

You can also use that construction to establish character.  One Joker henchman telling another would probably not use the same language to describe the incident.

  • “Yeah, the Batman bashed his face in,” George said to Lenny.  “And I heard he laughed the whole freakin’ time.”

George’s story is plain and simple, using active language because that’s how most people speak.  He’s a down-to-earth character and doesn’t need to make a formal report.

A newscaster speaking of the same incident might use a bit of active language in his newscast:

  • “Sources say an unknown assailant beat the Joker badly.  Police suspect the mysterious vigilante known as the Batman,” the handsome blond anchor said.

Or, he might not:

  • “Sources say the Joker was beaten badly by an unknown assailant.  The mysterious vigilante known as the Batman is the police department’s prime suspect,” the handsome blond anchor said.

Which one sounds better?  The active one does.  Not only that, but it takes less time to say.  I imagine news people wouldn’t want to have to rush through their copy.  They make more mistakes that way.

You can find some resources about active and passive language at these websites:

Purdue Online Writing Lab

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/539/01/

Essay Writing Assistance – Columbia College of Missouri

http://www.ccis.edu/writingcenter/documents/passive.html

Here’s a great one with lots of examples:

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/activepassive.html