A year ago I took at class at a local community college in which students submitted their writing and met weekly to hear critiques from the rest of the group including the professor. Not only did I learn a lot from the class itself and the insightful, high-energy professor, Ross McMeekin, but I also joined a writers’ group that continues to meet today.
The members are Anne, Sandy, Helen and Jean all of whom are writing memoir-style stories. I couldn’t know then just how much they would come to enrich my writing and provide sound guidance as I plodded along (and struggled with) the sometimes ambiguous and challenging writing process.
Once a month I send the group a chapter and they give me feedback (over cookies and tea at Anne’s house). They explain where parts of my story don’t add up, when the suspense has them hungering for more, or they want more detail. They praise the writing when it’s deserved and critique it when it can be improved.
Sandy often comments about too many “passive verbs” and how the writing could be more interesting without them. This has been a challenge for me because a) I didn’t have a good understanding of what passive verbs were and b) when I did understand what they were, I generally thought that using them wasn’t such a bad thing.
Over the past few months it’s sunk in that passive verbs “deaden” a sentence. Active verbs makes the writing more interesting, plain and simple. For those of you who have not considered this before and want to know more about passive verbs, check this out: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/passive.htm. I’ve included a simple example here:
Passive: Wendy is going to Elmore High School and is afraid she won’t make new friends.
Active: Wendy worries she won’t make new friends at Elmore High School.
I’ve been going through some of my chapters and changing the passive verbs to active ones. I posted a blog piece titled “Rancho Encantado” from chapter 2 a few days ago to convey Evangelina’s surroundings and love for her home. I wrote it 3 years ago. At the time, it seemed fine. When I read the post again yesterday, I realized it was chock full of passive verbs so tonight I went through and eliminated most of them and am convinced it’s better.
So, thank you to Anne, Sandy, Helen and Jean – each one of you makes me a better writer. You’ve improved the plot, improved the writing and improved my confidence this book will actually come to fruition and be read by more than just us 5!