Being in beta reads and edits for Convergence have once again opened my eyes to common writing errors. I’m guilty as charged, as I’ve been corrected on these things myself. Today, I’d like to start sharing these lessons with you by talking about two mistakes that modern writers commonly make while drafting their novels:
Passive voice. The best definition I found of “passive voice” is when the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb. I know that’s as clear as mud, which is why most people define it through an example, i.e. “The truck was driven by Zack.” It’s not technically wrong, but it’s not the best way to express what happens. Think “show, don’t tell.” “Zack drove the truck” has more clarity and efficiency as an active voice sentence than the truck being driven by Zack. I heard in an English Grammar Boot Camp course that passive voice is preferable in police or scientific reports, so the truck being driven by Zack is preferable if Zack’s a criminal apprehended during a high speed chase in a truck that’s now in the impound yard. However, if he’s a sweet sun conure driving Bubbles (his Quaker sister) to Sonic for some tater tots, it reads a lot smoother to say “Zack drove the truck.” You aren’t confused by whether the truck or Zack are more important. You can save that energy to ponder more important things, like how a parrot is driving a truck.
I know, it’s silly to use my birds as an example, but I think you get the point. Active voice is action driver, and saves words by putting the noun and verb in the proper place. Sure, I’ve been criticized for my writing being too strong and bold by some business or journalistic writers who don’t care for my style, but they’re in the minority behind the good book reviews and readers thanking me for keeping my writing clear and full of action.
Plus, passive voice is one of my pet peeves. If you think in terms of “show, don’t tell,” then you see why this is annoying.
Starting and/or ending a sentence with a preposition. I’ll admit that I’m still stuck in the days where it’s improper, but no rule is absolute and there are situations where it’s fine. The problem is knowing when to bend, and when you’re interrupting the flow of thought/reading. “I washed my hands. But the trash can fell over. So I had to wash them over again,” is choppy and slows down the flow of reading, whereas “I washed my hands, but the trash can fell over so I washed them twice,” reads smoother and keeps the action flowing. It’s not technically wrong, but I go with the experts in recommending that you minimize it to keep a good “flow” in your writing.
Those are two mistakes that I’ve both made and seen in writing. Next time, I’ll move on to the other two errors that are common in modern writing.
That’s all today. Take care, and have a great week.