Active Voice

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Rules-headerA blog for fiction writers and impending writers. An editor’s perspective.

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Active Writing (Part 1): Active Voice

When I’m editing a work of fiction, I look for active writing—the life of a novel—on three distinct levels: 1. Voice, 2. Language and, 3. Plot.

Active writing… the antithesis of passive writing. Friends who write and creative writing teachers, editors and agents, publishers and critics and helpful relatives at Thanksgiving dinner—they’re always imploring us to “Write active, not passive.” So what part of the creative writing process—voice, style or composition—should continually sparkle with activity?

The answer is:Yes, yes and yes. All of the above.

Remember Rule #8Keep your characters moving. Inhale or Exhale. A fiction writer constantly, continually pushes a character toward conflict, or pulls her away again. Active Writing breathes passionate resonance into your storytelling (and style, and voice) at the appropriate times. Anybody who’s ever read a great work of fiction can pretty much intuit an inhale from an exhale. (If you can’t, you’re probably in the wrong business. No offense.)

However, breathing life into a novel isn’t a singularity. It happens (subliminally or not) on multiple levels during the creation of a novel. I look for the life of a novel on three distinct levels: Voice, Language and Plot. But let’s look at voice, first.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Show, don’t tell. (And a bit more about the specifics here, but keep reading…!)

Show, don’t tell. Meaning… show the reader the gleam of the diamond, the glint of hard steel, the fragrance of new blossoms in the spring—and not simply tell the reader, it’s a rock, it’s a sword, it was warm.

When you tell a story in passive voice, you’re providing a bare-bones, superficial glimpse through a dispassionate, authorial (a.k.a.: omniscient) voice. For example:

John hated Mary.

The statement may be clear and simple—but it’s hardly exciting writing. When you allow us to glimpse morsels of your story by using active voice, you’re using interpretive sensory details far more illuminating, and pleasing—or horrifying, if that’s your intent—to the reader’s senses. You’re revealing hidden passions or characteristics or secrets that may not otherwise be revealed. You’re sifting through the layers of each character, seeking those few gleaming shards that best illustrates the fact that John does indeed hate Mary. You’re picking a single carrot out of the stew, and investigating that one morsel in breathtaking detail.

Mary recoiled at her husband’s touch. She found his breath cloying, his voice dripping with a sarcastic bitterness that betrayed his disgust with the woman who had once captured his soul.

Or ponder the efficient, yet detached: Joan loved Paul.

Now consider the alternate: She adored the way Paul reached for her hand when they walked together on the beach, or how he touched her face in the moonlight, and whispered her name.

Not once does a writer need to use the words “love” or “hate.” Instead, the reader intuits those vibes from the use of richer language. A single tear falling from an eye can be a far more poetic experience than Joan sobbed all day long.

So… Is  Showing, Not Telling a principle element of Simple, but Exciting? Or of Exciting, but Simple? It is, IMHO, the best of both worlds. Let’s backtrack a sec:

She adored the way Paul reached for her hand….

A pretty basic concept, no? A single, simple sentence evokes an emotion, a bond between Joan and Paul. A confident writer might intuit that no further character development is necessary yet, or else add a line or two more to impart other significant detail about their relationship at the moment. However, lavishing nuance after nuance into another dozen pages would, indeed, complicate the obvious. Once we intuit that Joan indeed loves Paul, it’s time to move on. Thus, a writer might begin to scene set, adding details about the endless, palm swept, black-sand beach. Or perhaps it’s time to infuse a plot element—introducing that unseen, 18-foot Great White swimming hungrily just beyond the breakers.

Rule #20: Don’t extend a scene past the “just enough” point. For instance, “too much” might look like:

She adored Paul because he’d once bought her flowers that had cost twenty dollars at the carnival in Rio, but back then Paul had a part-time job as an undertaker, so he didn’t mind spending so much, even though he could have bought roses cheaper down the road at a place called Pepe’s, where Paul had once dated a girl named Rita.

Unless any of the above rambling “summary” is later crucial to the plot (or a very specific style choice that’s leading somewhere), Paul’s former career, the existence of Pepe’s or Rita’s mention, that information does not belong in the book. And certainly none of it belongs on this beach. If any of the information is later crucial—introduce those elements at the appropriate time. In other words, if we don’t meet Rita again for 150 pages, don’t mention her in passing now. We certainly won’t recall her name! Nor should you expect a reader to carry that baggage for 150 pages. However, if Rita will develop later into a necessary character, give her ample stage-time (if only a few paragraphs), or some specific trait, sufficient for readers to remember her 150 pages hence.
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Using Hearts to Save the World

book6Rehabilitating the Divine Feminine with “Sacred Economics” Author Eileen Workman Wed Feb 19th 7 pm on BlogTalkRadio.com

Muse Harbor Publishing’s Eileen Workman, Economic Philosopher/Author of “Sacred Economics: The Currency of Life” and former Wall Street Economic Financier/Vice President, shares a hopeful vision for how to create an abundant, harmonious economy that eliminates indebtedness, exploitation and inequality. She will discuss how resurrecting the archetypal energies of The Divine Feminine can help us build a regenerative, sustainable and compassionate society on a global scale.

San Francisco, CA (PRWEB) February 14, 2014

On February 19th, 2014 at 7 PM PST, controversial political, socio-economic author/blogger Eileen Workman will discuss her book “Sacred Economics”and the rehabilitation of the Divine Feminine here on Voices of The Sacred Feminine Radio, hosted by Karen Tate. Please click on the link above to listen to the show.

Workman and Tate will be discussing the progressive ideas and practical life-tools used to manifest abundance from her book, “Sacred Economics: The Currency of Life” and the return of the Divine Feminine to promote new ways of thinking from the heart for world betterment.

The financial expert and noted economic visionary will provide simple, non-monetary steps that individuals, companies and local governments can take toward building sustainable communities, and peace of mind.

Workman will provide concrete examples of how real-life, self-sustainable, gift-based communities, modeled after natural ecosystems are being created and successfully implemented in cities around the world.

Showing how today’s greed has killed many industries, Workman predicts the death of the debt system and explains how these new, gift-based communities are not only here, they are thriving.

In her book, “Sacred Economics: The Currency of Life”, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Muse Harbor Publishing, Workman offers a logical analysis of the problems that are undermining the global monetary system. She also maps out steps individuals and governments can take to move beyond our present economic gridlock to create a real sustainable and life-affirming economy.

Workman worked most recently as a First Vice President of Investments with a major international Wall Street firm and draws upon her work experience and extensive research, to present a powerful argument that the outmoded and corrupted vehicle of capitalism cannot sustain us for another generation.

 

Better to confront our fear, our unknown self, than to run because we’re too afraid to ask those questions we’ve been taught never to ask.

Eileen Workman,
author of Sacred Economics

Workman does not blame capitalism for the problems we face. Instead, she questions why society continues to worship the aggressive growth engine that drives our global economy.

Why is debt necessary? How can society overcome greed? Why does poverty exist? Is a moneyless society possible? By carefully deconstructing our shared, often unexamined beliefs around “making the grade” in modern society, Sacred Economics points to an evolutionary opportunity.

Sacred Economics’ inspired perspective explains why humans are drawn to the innovation of creative exchange, and how—in the interest of becoming the best we can collectively be—society might direct their attention toward the purposeful design of a more compassionate, cooperative and abundantly flowing economic system.

Workman says, “Better to confront our fear, our unknown self, than to run because we’re too afraid to ask those questions we’ve been taught never to ask. Those questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my life purpose? What am I capable of doing? Does God exist, and what is my relationship to this world?”

Ms. Workman, an engaging speaker, financial expert and global economic visionary, can be reached for further Radio, TV, Print and Online interviews or event speaking engagements, by contacting Margaux(at)museharbor(dot)com. Friend Eileen on Facebook to join her blog and conversations on innovative solutions and political/economic philosophies targeting a wide array of current events.

Muse Harbor Publishing was founded in 2011 as an organization of “writers helping writers, in service to our readers.”

 

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Exciting, But Simple

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Rules-headerA blog for fiction writers and impending writers. An editor’s perspective.

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Exciting, But Simple.

I’m not sure if there’s a sage in the world who can teach the secrets of exciting writing. If they can’t, I certainly can’t either.

I happen to believe that writers, like ball players, concert cellists and chess masters, are born into this world fully equipped with the ability to succeed. Some will never have the chance or the perseverance to fully explore or hone our true talents. Others will spill blood, sweat and tears, but never catch that lucky break. (Sorry, yeah, it’s about luck, too.) Sometimes, good writers simply encounter bad timing. Or the wrong agent, or editor, or the wrong publisher. And don’t think I haven’t lost a sleepless night or two fretting about that last quandary. I have.

And sometimes, the most diligent of souls, the sweetest of people, simply aren’t good enough. Almost, but not quite. The world is filled with manuscripts, piled high in milk crates crammed into back corners of countless closets. As my grandmother used to say, “You can’t make a Ferrari out of a Studebaker.”

She’s right. But the biggest tragedy is never knowing. Never trying. The world may indeed be overladen with Studebakers pretending to be Ferraris, but I suspect the world has its fair share of idling Ferraris, glumly assuming they’re Studebakers. These are the writers who’ll never allow themselves the chance to experience themselves flying balls out down that literary speedway of life. And that’s a shame.

As hopeful authors, most of us are capable of crafting and honing our mechanical abilities—we can read creative writing books, we can study language and craft and attend workshops—we’re able to eventually intuit a noun from a verb. Because a writer can learn the simple stuff. But you can’t learn what can’t be taught. You can’t learn writing excitement.

When I talk about excitement, I’m talking about a writer’s individual style, that unique blend of panache and enthusiasm and articulation. Style can’t be bought or taught or handed down, generation to generation. Nobody taught Picasso Cubism. Nobody taught Babe Ruth to hit homers. Nobody taught Einstein to think. They each had it in ’em, all along.

If you have it—and Tom Wolff would call it the right stuff—good for you. Aim for the center field bleachers. If you don’t have it, you’ll discover that soon enough and move on. Ninety-five percent of wannabe fiction writers move on, and often to even greater endeavors. Ain’t no shame in crossing off write a novel from your bucket list, before skiing the Alps or designing a home or discovering cold fusion.

So… do I have advice for those of you attempting to determine your own stylistic prowess? (Does a goose have paté?) I can offer a few suggestions to flint that spark, to perhaps ignite something inside that might never extinguish.

Suggestion #1. New to fiction writing? Overwhelmed by the concept of writing 350 pages end-to-end? Unsure of your own abilities or talent or stamina? Start with smaller bites. Write a short story. Write an idea. Write a slice of life—a simple scene, a simple page with no beginning or no end—with no other agenda than pure enjoyment. Write for yourself. Make yourself smile. If that works… write another page. If you find yourself pouring out your soul, or simply amusing yourself with your own creative genius, perhaps you’re onto something. But writing a novel is kinda like giving birth. Give it time. Give it room. If you start pushing too hard at three months you’ll only hurt yourself, and the kid’ll be thinking WTF, mom?

So…. Rule #3. Always write for yourself. If you find yourself writing for an audience, you’ll eventually lose yourself in the crowd. Even if you’re successful, sooner or later you’ll probably sell your soul. So write to please yourself, first and foremost.

Suggestion #2. Chances are, if you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. As a reader, what excites you? When I write, I keep a favorite novel on my desk and, most mornings before I begin working, I pick a random page and begin to read. Sometimes I read a few paragraphs, sometimes a few pages. I read until I’m filled with awe and appreciation and amazement that, yeah, that’s great stuff. And I can do it too.

By reading snippets, I’m not attempting emulate a writer’s style or content—I’m not plagiarizing substance or verbiage—I’m simply trying to jump start my own creative juices by absorbing another writer’s creative juices. It’s the literary equivalent of a Vulcan Mind-Meld.

Suggestion #3. Concentrate on dialogue. The eyes may be the portal to the soul (as the poets like to say), but in fiction, dialog is the portal to a character’s soul. I believe dialog to be the single most important asset to a unique voice. Try writing a few pages of dialog; two people simply talking to each other. No other modifiers (i.e.; he said sweetly, or she chuckled insanely.) Simply two voices. Don’t think about it—just begin a dialog. You might be amazed at how spontaneous (again, as in don’t think about it) you’ll find a situation (no matter how irrelevant) developing:
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S’up?”
“Nada.”
“Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Been busy.”
“That your elephant?”
“Nah. My mom’s.”
“He gotta name?”
“Buster.”
“Buster?”
“He don’t come when you call him, though.”
“No, I don’t think he’d give a shit.”
“Unless maybe you have ice cream.”
“Peanut butter?”
“Strawberry.”
“Man, you’d think peanut butter, huh?”
“Seriously, yeah.

…or some sort of totally random, unrehearsed, out-of-nowhere stuff. Try to create characters by voice alone, and see where that leads you. Maybe nowhere. Maybe a character sketch. Maybe a story. Maybe a novel. (Stranger things have happened.) And more about dialog later…

Suggestion #4. Keep your voice active. Not passive.
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Defeat anxiety with Dr. Ralph Huber

book6Phone-In to Beat Anxiety with Popular Communications Coach/Author Dr. Ralph Huber – 4 Wed TeleCourse Feb 12 – Mar 5

Muse Harbor Publishing’s “Awakening Into Perfect Peace” author teaches an easy, proven three-step process to achieving mental peace in his Hummingbird Living School’s TeleCourse, over four Wednesdays, February 12th – March 5th. His simple ROAR approach to acceptance and letting go is gaining national popularity as a healer of anxiety, stress and low self-esteem.

Santa Fe, New Mexico (PRWEB) February 06, 2014

On four Wednesdays from February 12 – March 5, 2014, Hummingbird Living School in Santa Fe, New Mexico will host a TeleCourse with Dr. Ralph Huber,popular Communications Expert/Coach and Author of “Awakening Into Perfect Peace: Reflections on Freedom from Suffering.” Space is limited and previous courses have sold-out, so listeners are encouraged to register soon by clicking on hummingbirdlivingschool.org.

Dr. Huber will teach ways to free oneself of life’s personal drama, confusion and stress while aligning with Spirit to boost creative capacity.

The topic is “Co-Creating with Spirit: Keeping in Resonance with our True Nature of Infinite Wisdom and Oneness.” Dr. Huber will answer:

How your should-thoughts stand in the way of keeping in resonance with Spirit

The role humility plays in aligning your thoughts and actions with Spirit

How heart-felt expressions of appreciation strengthen your ability to keep open to Spirit’s guidance.

 

Ralph Huber is one of the great minds and hearts of our times. ‘Awakening Into Perfect Peace’ serves as a fertile ground for self-actualization.

Amanda Creighton
Executive Producer,
Within Reach

Dr. Huber asks, “Do you want to experience a life filled with confusion and drama by resisting life’s unfoldment, or do you want to experience a life of clarity and peace that comes from welcoming all of life – as it is?”

Dr. Huber believes that inner peace is achieved through the path of least resistance, which is often the simplest path to take. “Most of life’s conflict is self-inflicted,” says Huber.

Two of Huber’s students from a recent workshop said, “I had many significant takeaways including that pain exists but suffering is optional” and “For me, this class gets at the heart of how to live life from peace rather than from anxiety.” JB and MH from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“Awakening” recently launched on 2013’s International Day of Peace from Muse Harbor Publishing. It can be found on Amazon.com and museharbor.com.

An engaging, inspirational speaker with practical “inner peace” tools that benefit any reader, listener or viewer, Dr. Huber can be reached for further interviews, including Radio, TV, Print, Online Blogs and event speaking engagements, by contacting Margaux(at)museharbor(dot)com.

Ralph Huber’s professional background includes educator, corporate trainer and vice-president of a New York based management consulting firm that offered services to major communication and retail industries. He is currently a member of Hummingbird Community in northern New Mexico and serves as board president for the Unity Church in Santa Fe. Dr. Huber holds a Ph.D. from New York University’s Department of Communication Arts and Sciences. He has an affinity for Advaita, Zen and Christian Mysticism.

Friend Dr. Huber on Facebook and for information on Huber’s personal coaching and seminars, visit awakeningintoperfectpeace.com.

Muse Harbor Publishing, based in Sea Ranch, CA, was founded in 2011 as an organization of “writers helping writers, in service to our readers.”

Hummingbird Community provides and hosts educational programs, conferences and retreat experiences that support conscious evolution, loving relationships, regenerative living, new economics, health and well-being.

 

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The Greatest Gifts

eileen-blog200x200As a writer, I’m deeply aware of how wonderful it feels to be contacted by someone who’s read my work and felt moved enough by my ideas to reach out and let me know how much I’ve touched them. That’s why, as a reader, I’ve personally never been shy about reaching out to those authors whose works have in turn touched my own heart, to let them know that their effort has not been in vain.

Some of my most treasured friendships have arisen from these connections. And of the countless times I’ve reached out to thank a writer, nearly all have responded with gratitude for having been well received. I suspect it’s because a writer’s life can be a lonely path. It may take years for a book to move through a writer’s mind, heart, hands and down onto the page, and from there to make it into printed form for consumption by the public. During that long and thankless time, we writers are typically plagued with bouts of self-doubt. We’re convinced our work will be unpublishable; our ideas will seem worthless or too mundane; our energy will have proved to be utterly wasted. We’re also occasionally accosted by people who – with the best of intentions – wonder aloud why we don’t go out and get ‘real’ jobs. Our friends and family members have been known to “helpfully” bury us beneath distressing statistics about the failure rates for new authors, and inundate us with articles that discuss how impossible it is to get readers to notice new books.

That’s why, for me, it always feels like a bit of a miracle whenever someone reaches out and bridges the time-space continuum that exists between that original struggle of my sometimes painful process and this place I am today, just to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey, you…great job. I loved your work. It moved me; I’m forever changed for having read this book. Thank you so much for having written it.”

In those precious, quiet moments of heartfelt reconnection with my own past efforts, I can at last feel vindicated for having stuck with a project; for not having chucked it during one of those dark and lonely periods when feedback was nonexistent, and when all I had to rely upon was my faltering faith in myself. Moments such as these are, at times, exactly what it takes to keep me going – to inspire me to sit down again and breathe life into yet another labored page.

We like to think of Muse Harbor as a place where we, as writers, are helping other writers reach new readers. As part of that commitment, one of our most sincere desires is to serve as a well-lit way station where those readers can connect with the writers who’ve moved them, and who have maybe even changed their lives for the better. So if you’ve read a book by one of our authors and have loved the message it sent, the story it told, or the characters that the author has breathed into life…please. Reach out and say so. I promise you, every writer feels an endless hunger to hear that. And don’t be surprised if you make a new friend for your efforts. As a person who toils in solitude, I know I’ve developed an appreciation for all of these human connections that nourish my soul. It’s a beautiful gift, and it’s free. All the greatest gifts are.

 

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