Monday, March 31, 2014

LY words and other adverbs -Stronger Writing #6

The Deadly –ly

“Ly words almost always catch the author in the act of explaining dialogue – smuggling emotions into speaker attributions that belong in the dialogue itself.” Self Editing for fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Pg 51

I doubt there is a writer out there who has not been told to eliminate the -ly words, or at least to limit their use severely. The experts tell us -ly words are the mark of a lazy writer. 

Writing the first draft we use whatever easy word comes to mind to help us get the story on the page. In the editing process, we need to search out those weak verb/adverb structures, the way a cat hunts a mouse, and find more specific verbs. One common place we find them is coupled with said and in other constructions to define emotions.

 - If you use an –ly word to tell us how a character is feeling, use action to show us.

She was angry with Tom.
She glared at Tom, her teeth clenched and her fists bunched at her sides. 

- If you use an -ly word to insert emotions, use stronger dialogue.

“How should I know,” she said furiously.
“How the hell should I know?” she said.

- If you use an –ly word to enhance a verb, find a stronger verb.

She walked slowly (or unsteadily) down the street.
She strolled (or tottered) down the street.

Remember, when editing use that find function. Check your –ly words and be honest, isn't there a better way to say it?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Use Active not Passive

Passive voice:

- Lowers and softens impact
- Distance the reader by forcing her to reorganize the sentence into SVO (Subject+Verb+Object)
- Uses 30% more words than active voice
- Lays flat and dull on the page

In active voice the subject acts.
In passive voice, the action is done TO the subject.

Active:             The sleuth caught the killer.
Passive:           The killer was caught by the sleuth.

To Find Passive Voice – Watch for this combination in structures:

- a form of the verb “to be” (is, am are, was, were, be, been or being)
- a participle or past participle (-ing and –ed verbs)
- a prepositional phrase beginning with by (written or implied)
            The rules were changed by the boss.
            The rules were changed. (by an implied someone)

Using WAS, ING’s and TO’s (participles or infinitives) result in passive constructions that distance the reader from the action.


  • Considering her options, Jane tried to think of a way to grant the snake freedom without actually touching it.  One of the solutions she considered was barbecue tongs, but that would mean lifting the shoe box edge high enough for the slithery little monster to make an escape, so that was abandoned.

  • Jane considered her options.  How the heck could she grant the snake freedom without actually touching it?  She could use barbecue tongs, but that would mean lifting the shoe box edge high enough for the slithery little monster to escape. No, she wouldn’t try the tongs.

 Write your story any way you can, but when you have the meat on the platter, trim the fat. Cut back on structures that distance your reader. Garnish with action and pull your readers in.

Monday, March 24, 2014

WAS is a 4 letter word - Proven Editing Tools # 4

WAS is a Four Letter Word

by guest blogger - Diana Cranstoun

It was a cold and moonlit night.

Discussions around editing and passive voice prompted the following balanced article listing pros and cons for using the word "was." Diana volunteered to write this article in the series  on Writing Stronger - five proven areas for editing. Thanks, Diana, for these insights.

According to Michael Hauge, the job of the filmmaker is to elicit emotion in the audience. That responsibility holds equally true for the fiction writer. Our readers want to share in our characters' journeys, experiencing in a visceral way their joy and despair, fear and courage, trust and betrayal etc.
As writers, we’re told the most effective way to do this is to ‘show’ our stories rather than ‘tell’ them. A simple technique to 'show' is to use active, rather than, passive voice.
Passive voice – telling - holds the reader at arm’s length, and merely informs.
Active voice – showing -  engages the reader, eliciting emotion in both reader and character.
One of the biggest culprits of passive voice?  ‘Was’. It might only be a three letter word, but the writer must treat it with the same respect as its four-letter cousin.  Rely on was too frequently and your writing will lose its power.
The Argument AGAINST 'was':
Take this simple phrase:  He was walking.  ‘Was’ plus an ----ing verb is about as passive as it gets, and is on the 'No, no, no, no, no!' self-editing checklist for many publishing companies.  It’s boring and rarely suggests - or elicits - emotion in either character or reader.
He walked – is a little better, but it still doesn't tell the reader much.
Now try these for size. He strode. He strolled. He sauntered. He paced. He plodded. He shuffled. He waddled. He marched. He meandered. He slogged.
As a reader, can’t you see a picture in your head of how - exactly – the character 'was walking’? Doesn't that image evoke the emotion the character is feeling? And now don’t you want to use that other three-letter-word ‘Why?’ to ask why the character is feeling that way?
Get your reader to ask ‘Why?’ and you've engaged him. You've now elicited an emotion – at the very least, one of curiosity - in him.
The Argument FOR 'was':
It’s often suggested that during our final edit, we plug ‘was’ into our search option and eliminate its every use.  Maybe that’s taking things a bit too far because 'was' does have a place in our stories.
In character dialogue. " You know, she was telling me the other day..."  "I heard she was going into the army." "There was a sale at the shops today."
There is an argument to be made that too much showing can adversely affect the pace of a story. Think about the phasing or pacing of a song. If the singer sings each word, each phrase, at the same volume and with the same intensity, it's boring and turns the listener off. You need the quiet moments, the loud moments, the fast and the slow. That's one of the roles of 'was' in your book. Sometimes you just need that moment where you want to slip in a fact or piece of incidental information without making a big deal of it.
Ah, but what about the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities, I hear you ask.  In his famous opening line, It was the best of times, it was the worst of timesDickens uses the word 'was' ten times.  That's right, ten times!
As always, whenever there's a rule, it can be broken. But it's not something I suggest you try to emulate. Dickens' effectiveness has everything to do with the poetic nature of his introduction and the fact that he was a genius. That's not the case for most of us.
So what's the perfect balance?  Is there one? Check out the following links below and see how these best-selling authors from different eras deal with 'was'.

Friday, March 21, 2014


The what, why and how of my writing life

Thanks to Western Romance author, Mary M. Forbes, and Romance Author, Lorraine Paton, for inviting me on the Blog Hop. Answering the questions prompted me to review what I write and why, a useful activity for all writers to revisit from time to time. You can find my answers below and their answers and more information about their books on their blogs.

1) What am I working on right now?

My current writing project is the second book in the Caleb Cove Mysteries. Katya Binks Came Home From Away. This first draft is created within a “Challenge Group” consisting of two other writers from ARWA. We swap up to 25 pages per week and Skype to give each other feedback. The process includes brainstorming opportunities. My projected release date is June 2014. At the same time I am collecting the what if's and maybe's for the third book tentatively called, You Can Never Go Home Jeffery Brown.

2) How does my work differ from others in its genre?

The biggest difference is possibly the setting. The first three Caleb Cove Mysteries are in or near a fictional island community off the east coast of Nova Scotia. The south shore of NS is rich with history from the saga of the Bluenose to the colorful stories of rum runners. Overall my stories are more contemporary than a cozy, less sexy than a romantic suspense and less technical than a police procedural. The Caleb Cove books deal with identity. Who are we? And what happens when our names, our professions, our personal histories are challenged?

3) Why do I write what I do?

Mysteries have always fascinated, entertained and amused me. I’m drawn to creating complicated back stories that lead to mysteries and uncovering the story behind the story. I blame it on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and wishing as a child that I was not the daughter of a small town Presbyterian minister. My reading history included writers like Mary Stewart, Agatha Christie and later Anne Perry. On TV I like Bones or Castle. The bottom line: I enjoy books with puzzles, relationships and satisfactory endings. So, that’s what I write.

4) How does my writing process work?

First, there’s a trigger. Maybe it’s a news event, a scene out a bus window or a story someone tells me. Next I write a premise and collect the maybes and the what-ifs. My brain roars with ideas, some of which are actually useful. The ideas might sound crazy or impossible or mundane. It doesn't matter. At this stage, everything that pops into my head is recorded. Later I review, compile and create a skeleton for the story. I flesh out the skeleton as I go, using either scene cards or a rough first draft. It’s a loose plan. What I’m going to write is suggested, not written in stone, and changes as I layer my way through the book. Finally, I do a line edit, listen to it in Natural Soft Reader and present the (hopefully) final copy to my Beta Readers.


On Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Calgary author, Suzanne Stengl

Suzanne Stengl writes cozy mysteries, and heartwarming romance. She is a member of the Alberta Romance Writers' Association and the Calgary Association of RWA. Suzanne is active in the writing community and gives willing of her time and expertise to help other writers. When she needs a break from her keyboard, she swims lengths at the Y, skis at Sunshine Village and hikes in the Rockies. She’s also a pretty good line dancer . . . and a very poor euchre player.

Suzanne's novella, Angel Wings is a sweet romance with a twist, and and her most recent novel, On the Way to a Wedding, is a charmer with a 5 star rating.

Ryder O'Callaghan finds Toria Whitney on the side of a forest road with a totaled car, a sprained ankle, and a wedding dress. Both Ryder and Toria are scheduled to be married in three weeks--but not to each other. 

On Friday, March 28, 2014

Author Dee Van Dyk

Dee Van Dyk is a professional writer living and writing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is the author of three non-fiction books (Conspiracy Theories, Hurricane Katrina Survival Stories,and Hurricane Hell) published through Altitude Publishing. 
Her first fiction novel (Sin Eater, A YA Paranormal) is due out on bookshelves in April 2014.
Her work has appeared in many North American magazines and publications, including PROFIT, Canadian Living, Homemaker’s, Write Magazine, Alberta Venture, FiftyPlus, Mocha Sofa, Campus Starter, WestJet Inflight Magazine, Jetsgo Inflight Magazine, West Word, Beltline Outlook, Madame, Home Cooking, Food for Thought, Student Counsellor, Canadian Writer’ s Journal, Avenue, Moving To,, CanLearn and Visitor’s Choice.

On Friday, March 28, 2014


E.C.Bell (also known as Eileen Bell) has had short fiction published in magazines and several anthologies, including the double Aurora Award winning “Women of the Apocalypse” and the Aurora winning “Bourbon and Eggnog.” Her first novel, "Seeing the Light", (Tyche Books) will be out in November, 2014. 

When she’s not writing, she’s in Edmonton, Alberta, living a fine life in her round house (that is in a perpetual state of renovation) with her husband, her two dogs and her goldfish. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

WRITE STRONGER - Perceptions in Point of View

Draw the Reader In

Writing in dedicated point of view lets the reader know they are experiencing the story through the character’s perceptions. Therefore, when you describe acts of perception, the verbs of perception saw, heard and smelled are unnecessary. Simply describe the perception. Anchor your reader in the heart and head of the character.

Instead of writing: “He looked out at the street and saw a boy whiz past on a skateboard.”
Write: “He looked out at the street. A boy whizzed past on a skateboard.”

Don’t use: “Sue stopped and listened. She heard leaves crunching behind her on the path.”
Use: “Sue stopped and listened. Leaves crunched behind her on the path.”

Not: “Fred sniffed. He smelled her perfume—the scent of lilacs—lingering in the air.”
But: “Fred sniffed. Her perfume—the scent of lilacs—lingered in the air.”

Remove this: She ran her hand over the bolt of fabric. It felt luxurious and textured and was exactly what she wanted.
Try this: She ran her hand over the bolt of fabric. Luxurious and textured, it was exactly what she wanted.

Use that useful “Find” function on your word processing program and search for the perception words. Avoid them when you can. You will pull your readers into the hearts and minds of your point of view character and anchor them in the action.

Saturday, March 15, 2014



Prepositions are useful but overdoing them unconsciously makes for sludgy reading. Four (4) consecutive prepositional phrases in one sentence may be too many. There are times when even two or three slow down your writing.

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that begins with a preposition, ends with a noun or a pronoun, and answers a question such as “Which one?” “What kind” “How?” “Where?” or “When?”

There are times you might want to string things out for effect. Doing it unintentionally will not strengthen your writing.

The boat sailed on the water of the harbor behind the breakwater down at the bay.

Chances are the following version will carry your reader forward faster and easier. There are details the reader will deduce without your help.

The boat sailed into the bay behind the breakwater.

As you can see, eliminating the excessive PPCs can contribute to both more efficient and more effective writing and reduce unnecessary wordiness. 

Common Prepositions:

- about, above, across, after, along, among, around, at
- before, behind, below, beside, between, by
- down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into
- of, off, on, over, thought, to, toward
- under, until, up, upon, with, without

Use your "Find" function (e.g. Set the Find for "of" and Set "find whole words") to check your prepositional use.

How would you rewrite the following two sentences for efficiency and effectiveness?

Jerry pulled into the driveway at the side of the house on the street where his mother used to live. (5 PPC’s)

A thud sounded from the kitchen next door to the study in the house she’d bought in Smithtown, a town to the north of Hartford. (7 PPC’s)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014



Immediacy is the lifeblood of good fiction.

“I just couldn't put it down...” is one of the best compliments a writer can receive.
If, as a readier, I am left looking through a window at the action and never permitted to hear, feel, taste, or see firsthand what is going on, I will put the book down.
Good fiction carries the reader away from their everyday world. Good writing draws the reader into the emotions and the lives of the characters. Readers are engaged and keep reading.

How do you Show-Not-Tell?

USE effective point of view plus specific sensory details.

 It takes practice, but by identifying the process in books, you become aware of the language and structure needed to present an appropriate point of view. Eventually, using it will become second nature.

This excerpt, from my earlier misguided and unpublished efforts, TELLS.
John Travis drove Maggie and Joanna to the hospital despite Joanna’s protests. Maggie knew Joanna’s disturbed emotions would have impaired her driving so had backed up John’s insistent offer.

However, this excerpt from Midnight in Paris, by Francine Mandeville SHOWS US THE STORY. It puts us solidly in the heroine’s point of view.

Kendra didn't respond. In fact, she didn't even hear him. Her whole attention was engaged by the sight of Jackson Randall in civilian clothing. One hard shoulder leaned against a marble pillar, and his arms were crossed over the wide expanse of his chest. He was waiting. Clearly, patiently, unmistakably waiting. Kendra felt a rush of exhilaration sweep through her body as she realized from the smile spreading over his face that he was waiting for her.

The immediacy is evident. We see what Kendra sees and we feel her response even as she does. We LIVE the story.

Do you want to engage your readers and keep them coming back for more?

One excellent way to do so is to strengthen your writing with dedicated point of view and specific sensory details. Go back to your manuscript and try it. I think you, and your readers, will be pleased with the results. And please let us know how it works. 

Friday, March 7, 2014



In reviewing my own work-in-progress and the work of newer writers, I am reminded of the Muddy Writing we all use in our first drafts. (Well, most of us - there are always exceptions although I have yet to meet one.) 

Words flow off our fingers in the first writing. That's necessary to create and capture our stories. 'Get it down anyway we can' is the mantra. But when we're finished the creative phase, we MUST EDIT. The stats are out there. SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS RE-WRITE!

These five key areas are the most common ways we muddy our stories.

1) telling instead of showing, 

2) passive instead of active structures 
3) too many prepositional phrases 
4) overuse of perception words (felt, saw, heard...) and
5) a proliferation of adverbs - the lazy ly.

Showing our readers the action and letting them interpret what's happening draws them deeper into the story and also respects their interpretive powers. Cleaning up our writing is how we make that happen. Numbers two through five contribute to the telling-not-showing dilemma. Fix them and improve your writing.

There are numerous books on how to edit your work. The above five items appear in most of them. I spent a winter reading books on how-to-write. The thirty-seven from that winter plus others read over decades learning the writing craft, add up to hundreds of books. ALL OF THE ONES I READ MENTIONED THOSE FIVE ITEMS IN THEIR HOW TO WRITE BETTER sections. And today, the internet provides the information. There are no solid excuses to avoid intelligently editing your work.

So folks, whether you are writing short or long, fiction or non-fiction, learn your tools and apply them. 

Question: What writing stumbling block bothers you the most?