Writing Progress: Week Ending September 17, 2011

“Story of G” is in the home stretch:

Story of G:

  • New Draft Wordcount: 833 net new words
  • Other Notes Wordcount: 0 words

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words

Grand Total: 833 words

This was, hopefully, the penultimate week spent working exclusively on “Story of G”.  I’m about 80% done with this revised draft.  Even though I’m well into the section where I expected to delete a lot, I still ended up adding wordcount.  The portions I deleted needed new segues and new parts to their scenes.  One of the difficult things about this part is that I’ve had to delete some lines of dialog that I really liked because I cant fit them into the new structure of the story.

The ending of “Story of G” is where a lot of the most radical change is taking place.  There was an extra scene added, and the final two scenes are undergoing some significant changes.  Making some of those changes, however, I hit a wall that stopped me for most of one writing day.  I couldn’t figure out how to move from one heavily-revised scene to the next.  I’m still working through that new transition.

I also started a passive voice sweep of what I’ve written so far.  That’s not something that’s very fun.  Apparently I use passive voice quite a lot.  Or at least… I did in this story.  (I’m willing to bet I do it frequently in other stories, too.)  Problematically, however, I’m finding that the alternative is often less-real sounding, or misconstrues the point.  Take this, for example:

Every part of [Protagonist]’s body was run through with knives, seared with fire.

You might think a worthy alternative might be something like “Knives ran through every part of [Protagonist]’s body and fire seared it.”  Except: a) that sounds dumb and b) [Protagonist]’s body, in this case, wasn’t literally run through with knives and seared with fire.  The statement is metaphorical, and changing it to active voice eliminates some of the subtleties of the metaphor: it reads more literally.

Another example:

When he looked up, he was surprised to find that the lone worshipper had joined him on his pew.

Again, reworking this into active voice, we might render it:  “When he looked up, finding that the lone worshipper had joined him on his pew surprised him.”  Except, once again, this sounds dumb and, interestingly, slightly less clear than the version written in passive voice.

In some ways, this jives with some things I’ve recently read about the value of Passive Voice.  On the one hand, there’s this excellent article by Jo Eberhardt at the Happy Logophile.  It’s filled with great examples of how passive voice weakens the story.  But then I read some interesting little squib like this, and my brain goes tic-toc.  (Shame on you, Strunk & White.)  Or you can find style advice like this.  Or more here, and here.

The take-away?  Now I’m not even sure all my examples of passive voice usage actually even were passive.  (I was going with the idea that virtually every use of the verb “was” is an instance of passive voice – of which there were over 200 instances of “was” in my approximately 10-thousand-word story – but that’s apparently not true.)  And even so… I’m not going to sweat it.  When I honestly think switching to active voice will improve the sentence, I do.  But if an active version of the sentence does not improve the flow of the prose, I let it stand.

By the end of this week, I expect to have a complete revised draft of “The Story of G”.  I’m hoping, at that point, to get a couple more folks to read through the story (or re-read it) – in part to make sure the new scenes fit properly into the overall story structure and that they’re clear, and in part to catch any major stylistic, grammatical, or punctuation mistakes.  I don’t know if I can make it happen, since I’m aiming for a September 30th drop-deadline to get this submitted to the Writers of the Future contest.  (Wish me luck!)

And that was my week in writing.  How was yours?

10 thoughts on “Writing Progress: Week Ending September 17, 2011

  1. I agree, not every use of “was” is necessarily passive voice, and not every use of passive voice is intrinsically wrong, either. Clarity is the most important thing, after all.

    In saying that, a sentence like your example about the pew is also an example of telling rather than showing (how do we know he felt surprised?). Not that you necessarily have to change anything, but I thought I’d mention another way that you might be able to strengthen it if you’re concerned. 🙂

    • In this particular case, I wasn’t concerned. (Unless… should I be?) Showing and Telling are similar, I guess, to the question of Passive Voice. Generally you want to show. But sometimes telling is better. In a tight, limited Third Person POV, sometimes showing the character’s emotions (which in this case would have to involve some sort of physical description of his emotional reaction) seems inappropriate to me, because the limited POV is relaying that character’s emotions directly (and unless he’s looking in a mirror, he’s probably not directly conscious of many of the physical cues of his own thoughts and emotions). Also, sometimes telling is just faster (and you don’t want to waste words on deep-immersion showing for something that’s not going to be important later on). However, when that close-POV character is reacting to the emotional cues of other characters, showing might be more appropriate, because he/she can’t see what’s in their hearts or heads, just what’s on their faces, in their body language, and their tone of voice. At least… that’s my line of reasoning. Which isn’t to say that I’ve done it quite right by my own standard, either. (That’s why I might be looking for another reader or two to make sure I’m hitting the style notes right.)

      • Haha. No, you shouldn’t be concerned. Especially because I know the scene where that comes from, I think delving into physical reactions at that point would be distracting rather than helpful. (I’m assuming the story hasn’t changed so much that the context of the sentence is different!)

        My point was really that there are many ways to skin a cat. If you can’t find a way to “fix” passive voice (and you want to), then you may be better off looking at whether the problem is actually telling vs showing, or filter words, or something similar.

      • Well, I’d be grateful for it! 🙂 Sadly, the new story is a bit longer than the original – I was really hoping to better control wordcount. It’s possible I’ve added too much. I’m not sure.

    • Yeah, sifting through words to find possible small-time offenders wasn’t terribly gratifying. I guess it would be better to learn not to need to do that in the first place. Ah well. Do you have a deadline looming for the novel that you need to worry about, too?

  2. “One of the difficult things about this part is that I’ve had to delete some lines of dialog that I really liked because I cant fit them into the new structure of the story.”

    Eh, I hate when that happens… Guess you just have to bite the bullet, eh? At least it’s almost done!

    Last week wasn’t the best week for me, though I did get through two chapters. One ended up growing larger than I’d expected because I’d changed some details that needed more filling in/explaining.

    *sighs* Like the story wasn’t already long enough, lol.

    • Late-breaking news: I managed to work some of those lines in! 😀 Hurray for longevity! If I ever become a famous writer and write a writing memoir about becoming a writer, it will be titled: “[Main Title]: or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Fantasy Doorstopper”. 😉

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