Lane Diamond

Author, Editor, Publisher, Coach

18 October 2021: Are we there yet?

2020, 2021, and…?

It’s fair for all of us, at this point, to ask if this madness overtaking the world is EVER going to end. I see signs that people are finally fighting back and seeking to regain control of their lives, and this encourages me. However, I know it will be no easy thing, and so, some level of frustration and uncertainty remain.

And yet….

Life does, indeed, go on. It must. So let’s get back at it, shall we?

On the writing front, I have no real news to report, sadly. It’s just so hard for me to find time right now, but that too will change at some point, probably not until early 2022. Then I plan to dive headlong into finishing THE DEVIL’S BANE, Book 2 of my “Tony Hooper” series of suspense thrillers.

On the publishing (Evolved Publishing) and editing front, I’m still busier than a 1-legged mule in an ass-kicking contest, but hey… that’s the gig, so no complaints. I’ve been really pleased to help bring to market some great books in 2021. Here’s a list (in chronological order):

At the moment, I’m editing 9 books. Yeah… 9. I know what you’re thinking: What do you do with all your free time? Well, I like music and long walks on the beach and… uh… never mind.

I’m also doing all that I do as a publisher for Evolved Publishing (EP), which includes a lot of discussion about marketing these days. Have I mentioned that the last two years have been a bit challenging?

Thank God for cognac. And whiskey. And rum. No, no… really, as a rule I don’t drink. Well, as a habit I do, but as a rule….

Anyway, life does go on. I hope you’ll check out some of those books. They’re really great work, as is always the case from EP. Take good care of you and yours, and be well. God bless.

What’s Up this 11 March 2021?

This Post is for Everyone:

What a horrendous year!

So yeah, 2020… the year that keeps on giving. Thus far, 2021 is not looking much better, and in some cases worse. Gah! Whatever. Life goes on, so….

On the publishing, editing, and writing front, things are moving ahead slowly but surely. In my role as publisher and managing editor at Evolved Publishing (and personal editor for several authors), I’ve been busier than a 1-legged mule in an ass-kicking contest. Indeed, I’ve struggled to get caught up, but am determined to do so before… oh… 2029.

On the writing front… sigh. Not much to report there. No time. Maybe another day, or week, or month, or….

On the newsletter front, now that I have some actual subscribers (Hey, welcome to all my new subscribers!), I’ll be firing off a couple of newsletters: 1) For readers, this will come shortly, and will focus on a couple of nice opportunities; 2) For writers, I expect to have something out by the end of March — it’s a critical subject that I’m passionate about, and one that will help you greatly (he says modestly).

In the meantime, need a little listening entertainment? Hey, check out this page (he says modestly):

Why You Must Read David Litwack’s Books

This Post is for Readers:

If you love books that offer fun stories and memorable characters, but also great insights into the human condition, David Litwack is the author for you.

I’ve had the great pleasure not only to edit and publish David’s books, but hey… I got to read them! I’ve really enjoyed his books. I have a personal favorite, but as is always the case with these, they’re… well, personal. However, I have truly, truly enjoyed all 6 of his books to date. You will too.

Allow me to list them in alphabetical order, with links (on the title) to the book listing at Evolved Publishing, where you can find links for all the major retailers.


A tragic warrior lost in two worlds… Which one will he choose?

I think the review below says it well about this multiple award winner:

Awesome Indies Reviews says, “The book not only helps us to understand the trials of a severely injured returned serviceman, but also highlights the archetypal nature of computer games and the healing power of using such imagery to defeat our inner assassins. All up, this is a book that deserves to be read. It is both gritty reality and magical fantasy, and filled with both love and beauty, and ugliness and despair, but ultimately it is a story of healing, of burying the past, finding hope and taking control of the future.”


A thought-provoking look at the line between faith and fantasy, fanatics and followers, and religion and reason.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein

This book has won multiple awards, and garnered some exceptional reviews. There’s a reason. If you love literary fiction with a speculative, religious, and philosophical tilt, you’re going to love this one.


The Children of Darkness, The Stuff of Stars, The Light of Reason

A thousand years ago the Darkness came—a terrible time of violence, fear, and social collapse when technology ran rampant.

“But what are we without dreams?”

Each of the 3 books in this series is a multiple award winner in its own right, and the praise for this series is more than I can recap here. This has been a popular series over the years, and one that will give you many hours of great entertainment. Check it out today.


Have you ever awoken from a vivid dream and wondered which side of waking was real?

Kirkus Reviews calls it: “A keen and delightful multigenre tale about a hero grappling with two worlds.”

Feathered Quill Book Awards calls it: “…a delicious and thought-provoking book full of introspective questions and the choices one makes in the moment.”

“I consider The Time That’s Given one of the most inspiring fantasy novels I have ever read.” ~ Astrid Iustulin, Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews (5 STARS)


Trust me when I say that if you haven’t yet discovered David Litwack, this is an author you want to have on your reading list. You will not regret it. In fact, if you buy one of his books, and you don’t like it, send me a note, and I’ll make it right for you in some way. That’s my personal guarantee. ~ Lane Diamond

Support Yourself by Supporting Fellow Authors


Yes, “The Golden Rule” Applies Here

So you’re an author who’s published a book (or two or ten)? Excellent. Congratulations! Now… how do you sell your book(s)? You do want readers, I know. We all do.

I don’t want this post to be a lengthy discussion of book marketing, which is a whole other monster that deserves more space and time than we have here. However… perhaps no group consists of more avid readers/book buyers than writers. For most of us, all of that reading is what drew us to writing in the first place.

I can’t even imagine how many books I’ve bought over the last 40+ years, but it is a BOAT LOAD! I have supported a great many writers, and I’m happy to do so, because they have provided me with endless hours of entertainment, or given me critical information, or helped me learn, or motivated and inspired me, or…. I read a lot of different subjects, fiction and non-fiction, so it’s a long list.

When it comes time to get your book out there, to generate reviews, to build visibility and rankings, don’t overlook other authors as possible resources to help you. Engage in a little, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” HOWEVER….

Please be careful to safeguard your reputation and integrity. Don’t post false reviews. If you don’t like a book you read in one of these exchanges, be honest about it. You may choose not to post a review at all, but DO NOT post a positive review if that’s not really your opinion. Make sure all parties are in agreement on this point before you proceed.

Keep it honest, and it will benefit you in the long run. Shady shortcuts now might well derail your career in the future. Don’t go down that track. You owe it not only to yourself, but to your fans.

And so, as a matter of “putting my money where my mouth is,” I’ll agree to participate in such an exchange with you, IF you have a book out there that I might be interested in, and if I can get the eBook at Amazon for $6.99 or less. My own Kindle eBook for FORGIVE ME, ALEX is $4.99. Fair warning: I’m a really busy guy, so it might well take me a couple months to complete and post my review at Amazon. Also, if I have any kind of financial interest in your book, meaning I make money when your book sells, I will not be able to do this for you, as it’s a clear violation not only of retailer rules, but of general ethics.

Again… integrity and a strong reputation remain critical.

Anyway, I’d love to hear from you if you think we might be able to help each other.

The Publishing Industry – A Tough Nut to Crack


Prepare Well, and Elevate Your Prose

(This article originally appeared at another site back in March of 2011, from which it is now gone. Therefore, I re-post it here. NOTE: I may come back later [today is 25 September 2020] to update it, including how it applies to our standards at Evolved Publishing.)

I aim this post at aspiring authors who seek to publish, for the first time, via a traditional publisher.

I love to read fiction, and one of my greatest joys is the discovery of wonderful new authors. Yet they are not as plentiful as one might expect. If you’ve been trying to publish your first novel (and I don’t mean self-publish—anyone with a credit card can do that), you know precisely what I mean.

1) The traditional publishing industry is a notoriously difficult nut to crack.

2) Most agents require a referral, or preliminary contact at a writer’s conference, before they’ll take a hard look at a first-time author of fiction. Some agents express indignation at that statement but…come on…really? Who knew that just finding an agent who’ll read the manuscript would be such a daunting task—such a crazy concept? I didn’t…until I started the process. Yikes! Yet as broken as the industry is in this regard, first-time authors bear some of the blame—a great big chunk of it, in fact.

3) Most first-time authors are simply not ready for publication. Their work needs some…er…um…work. Most submissions that agents receive from first-timers are substandard. Agents, who are only human (Oh yes they are!), develop an auto-response psychologically: “Oh no! This submission is from a first-timer! Aaaaahhhhhh………” They must fight this tendency every day, I think. Some succeed—sometimes—and some don’t. The walls they erect against first-time authors of fiction are formidable, which makes our task of cracking that nut an insanely difficult one. Is anyone else losing his hair? Yeesh!

You must be a good storyteller, of course, but you must be more than that. You must be a WRITER. In other words, WHAT you write is important, but HOW WELL you write it is equally so.

4) Agents are unforgiving when it comes to the work of first-time authors. You can get away with much less than do established authors. Let’s face it: some poor writing makes it into print—but rarely from first-time authors of fiction. Do you think that’s unfair? You’d best get over it, and do what you must to break through those barriers. If you can’t accept that, please go back to your day job—save your sanity.

5) You must grab the agent on the very first page of the manuscript, preferably the first paragraph. In fact, why wait that long? Hook them with the FIRST SENTENCE! Front-load your piece; otherwise, they’ll never see all the brilliance that awaits them deeper into your manuscript. As a first-timer, and assuming you don’t have an “in” with the agent (referral, personal history, etc.), you have no reputation or track record to serve you. Therefore, grab them by the throat, right out of the chute, and don’t let go.

6) No spelling errors! No grammatical errors! Period! Do you want to be a professional? Outstanding! Then write professional prose. Oh sure, there are those moments when, for purely stylistic purposes, you violate the rules of grammar. Fine, but remember: you’re a first-time author. Agents will accept only so many of those “stylistic choices” before they determine that you simply don’t know how to write properly. Besides, if you minimize those stylistic flourishes, they’ll pack a much stronger punch (assuming you’ve executed them well); if you overload them, you’ll water them down, sap them of their effectiveness. Don’t be too cute by half, for the likely result may be the all too familiar: The agent stops reading your manuscript, perhaps with a frustrated sigh, and reaches for one of those wonderful little slips that start, “Thank you for allowing us to review your manuscript. Unfortunately…”

Good writing, even merely adequate writing, is an acquired skill. It requires rather a lot of work. Darn it! Yes, you must have some innate talent, but you must develop your natural skills to reach your full potential. You must work at it.

7) Read, read, and then read some more—fiction. If you write romance novels, for example, then read A LOT of romance novels. Know your genre. Know what passes as “publishable” material, but always keep in mind that the standards are higher for first-time authors.

8) Read, read, and then read some more—nonfiction. If you were going to be an electrician, you’d read books about electronics. If you were going to be an astronomer, you’d read books about astronomy. Need I say it? Well, all right: Read books about writing! There are some great ones out there. If you’re a first-timer, focus initially on those earmarked for beginners, and make sure that The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Macmillan), is part of your arsenal.

9) Finally, if you’re serious about publishing your work, find an editor. Every beginning writer (and most established ones) needs an editor. We’re too close to our own work. We often make mistakes that belie our skill level, meaning we know better, but we may read right over those mistakes when self-editing. A writer’s mind puts up psychological barriers, as if it assumes that, if she wrote it in the first place, it must be right. Why else would she have written it? It’s rather as the old saw says: “Forest? What forest? I don’t see no stinkin’ forest. All those darned trees are in the way!”

When it comes to your fiction, think of your prose as the trees and your STORY as the forest. If an agent can’t see through the trees to find the forest, your STORY will wallow in perpetual anonymity.

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

Narration: Who should tell your story?


Narrative: 1st-Person vs. 3rd-Person

(This article originally appeared at another site back in March of 2011, from which it is now gone. Therefore, I re-post it here.)

It’s time, you tell yourself, to finally sit down and write that novel or short story that’s been burning a swath through your consciousness. Outstanding! Now you must answer the first critical question: Who’s going to tell your story?

In other words, which narrative voice will you employ? You have options, but for our purposes, since a second-person narrative is so rare (and difficult to pull off), I’ll focus on the two primary options.

     1) First-Person Narrator

          a. This would be a character from your story, typically the protagonist.

          b. You could have multiple first-person narrators, each telling their own parts of the story.

     2) Third-Person Narrator

          a. The most common form is the omniscient narrator—the God-like being that sees, hears and knows everything.

          b. It could be a secondary, minor character, a witness to the critical story elements.

          c. It could be a separate “interested party,” such as a news reporter.

Important Consideration

The truth is that most agents and editors (publishers) dislike a first-person narrative. Why is that the case? The simplest answer is this: Few writers pull it off well. Authors have so worn down agents and editors with poor first-person submissions, many of those agents and editors have erected an automatic mental barrier to them. Some are reluctant even to consider it seriously, let alone review the manuscript.

Don’t think badly of them. Under such a barrage of poor work, their reaction is perfectly natural. They’re only human, after all. (Oh yes they are!)

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t use a first-person narrative, merely that you have some hard work ahead of you.

We must overcome several challenges to create an effective first-person narrative. As the first-person narrator, we authors become the primary character; we personalize the narrative. That means we see everything through our eyes alone, which leads us into a few traps.

     1) We don’t remain consistent with the character-narrator’s voice, in both the main narrative and that character’s dialogue. She must have one voice, whether narrating the story, speaking to another character, or musing in silent monologue.

     2) We create a character-narrator with such quirks or limitations that they are no longer credible—believable—as narrator. If that happens, you’ve lost the reader.

     3) We offer insights into what other characters are thinking or feeling, even though the narrator, as one of the characters, can’t possibly know what’s in the minds of those other characters. When we insist on a first-person narrative, we trap ourselves into a single Point-of-View (POV), and we must adhere to it.

          a. You can get around this by having multiple first-person narrators, each telling their own part of the story. However, this is highly inadvisable in a short story, and in a novel, you must always break chapters when you change narrators. Furthermore:

                i. It would be advisable to include in your chapter headings the name of the narrator for that chapter, in order to prevent reader confusion.

                ii. You must establish a unique narrative voice, a distinctive style, for every one of your first-person narrators (no simple task), and that distinctiveness must shine through consistently in both their narrative and their dialogue.

     4) We tend to relay information, rather than bring the reader into the story. In other words, it becomes all TELLING and no SHOWING.

          a. I saw this, I heard that, I remember when this happened, I wish I had done that, etc. I, I, I, I, I….

          b. Every narrative struggles with SHOW versus TELL, but the problem is particularly acute in a first-person narrative, where the lines are grayer than the more black-and-white lines of a third-person omniscient narrative.

     5) There is a natural tendency to bring even a Past Tense story current, to jump into Present Tense, in order to indicate how the character-narrator now feels about what happened. This often smacks of Author Intrusion, and it happens much more frequently in a first-person narrative. After all, the author is the character is the narrator; it’s hard to draw distinct lines of separation.

          a. I’ll never forget those words.

          b. I wish I could have seen it coming.

          c. I remember that day as if it were yesterday.

          d. Looking back, I now understand how it all went wrong.

It’s not that you may never use such devices, but you must not do so within the Past Tense narrative. You may start a chapter or section with that sort of reminiscence, but only if the following are true:

     1) You use a story break (***) to separate it (the Present Tense Lead) from the main Past Tense narrative.

     2) Within the Lead itself, you must break paragraphs when you jump between Tenses.

     3) After the story break, when you’re back in the main narrative, as it were, keep it in the Past Tense.

     4) Only use this Lead mechanism if the character-narrator’s emotional and psychological states, as seen through her mind, is:

          a. Critical to the story, and;

          b. Something you visit throughout the story with some consistency.

          c. Be honest with yourself. If neither of these two is true, resist the temptation to utilize such Leads, and just stick with the main Past Tense narrative.

Ultimately, we should base our choice of first-person narrative on only one criterion: It cements a deep emotional bond between the reader and the character-narrator (usually the protagonist) that you might not otherwise achieve. That’s it—the only justification for a first-person narrative, in my opinion. If it fails to deliver on this, or if it detracts too greatly from the other characters, some of whom may be as critical as the character-narrator, we should revert to a third-person omniscient narrative, which offers certain advantages.

     1) It enables us to delve into every character’s mind, rather than just the character-narrator’s mind, to explore all of their emotional and psychological states.

     2) It brings the line between SHOWING and TELLING more into focus.

     3) It provides us greater flexibility in moving from one character POV to another.

     4) We’ll be less tempted to jump into Present Tense during an otherwise Past Tense narrative, and less inclined to engage in Author Intrusion.

In closing, let me say that a first-person narrative can be a powerful tool. It might make your work more provocative and thrilling, as you delve deep into the mind of the character-narrator at the heart of your story. However, you must recognize and meet the challenges that such a choice will provide. It will be more difficult to execute effectively than would a third-person omniscient narrative, but the payoff just might be worth that extra effort. If you don’t want to tackle those challenges head-on, stay away from the first-person narrative.

‘Til next time, remember this: To write well, you must work hard. To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy.

Just Wondering….


Are books becoming mere “Movies on Paper?” Does eloquent writing even matter anymore?

(This article originally appeared at another site back in March of 2011, from which it is now gone. Therefore, I re-post it here.)

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately—at least, “quite a bit” for me. I’ve read six thrillers in the past month, and one common thread has really jumped out at me. The authors of four of the six wrote them in what I could best call a “sparse style.” Were I feeling a bit snarky, I might call them “just plain sloppy.” The other two might at least challenge the average 12-year-old. (Remember: We’re talking about content otherwise meant for an adult audience.)

This raises a number of questions for me:

1) Is this really what the publishing industry wants? If so, is it because that’s what readers want?

2) Is this unique to the Thriller genre, or are other genres displaying the same lack of concern for quality prose?

3) Why do people read? If they seek nothing more than a “Movie on Paper,” why wouldn’t they just watch the movie? It’s a lot quicker… and cheaper.

4) Have our schools dumbed us down so much that no one even knows how to write anymore, or, for that matter, how to read? Does that mean we should throw up our hands and surrender? Give up on the language?

5) Whatever happened to editors? Are these successful authors now so comfortable with their positions that they no longer feel it necessary to “do it right”—which is to say, “write?” Is anyone else insulted by that, feeling a bit abused, or is it just me?

6) Why should I continue to spend my hard-earned money on books, if all I’m going to get is a different format for a movie I can watch… free of charge… in less than two hours?

Okay, so maybe I’m ranting a bit. Okay, so I’m ranting a lot. What can I say? When I read a book in which every other sentence is a 3- or 4-word, verb-free, content-free fragment, I can’t help but feel as if I have the hiccups. And between you and me, I HATE the hiccups. NOTE: I say this not as a writer or editor, but as a reader.

I look for more from a book:

A) Characters that live and breathe on the page, full of emotional and psychological depth that a movie hasn’t the time to offer;

B) Complex plot that goes beyond the movie-like car chases, explosions and eye candy;

C) And yes, a thoughtful exploration of the language, one that brings richness and wonder that no movie can match.

It’s not that I mind an occasional simple, quick, not terribly fulfilling read—a minor distraction from the stresses of everyday life. I just don’t want every book to be that way. Nowadays, it seems I must return to the classics for a literary excursion. Modern storytellers are decent enough… well, storytellers. However, I’m hard-pressed to call some of them—quite a few of them, in fact—writers.

Our language is a wonderful tool, a fantastic opportunity for the exploration of whole new worlds born of imagination and daring. Yes, I love a good story… of course! However, let me revel in the words, at least every once in a while, to make that exploration a richer and more satisfying one.

Is metaphor dead? Is simile obsolete? Are breathless, grunting sentence fragments all that remain of our devolved language?

God, I hope not.

Of the six authors I recently read, each of whom I’ve read before, I’m scratching three from my future reading list. I’ll not buy any more of their books. Ever. Perpetual hiccups are no fun, and I just can’t stand it anymore. As to the other three, I’m placing them on probation—one more chance, maybe two—only because I’m so attached to their characters.

I offer here an example of how to do it right:

Dean Koontz, in his book Forever Odd, could have simply TOLD us that protagonist Odd Thomas was lonely, and that he had only himself to blame for that fact. This would have been fine, if rather dull. Instead, he chose to SHOW us Odd’s state through metaphor:

“Loneliness comes in two basic varieties. When it results from a desire for solitude, loneliness is a door we close against the world. When the world instead rejects us, loneliness is an open door, unused.”

As I read those words, I could see Odd in my mind’s eye, standing at his open door, wondering why no one ever stopped by to visit. Dean Koontz took the time and effort, as he does in snippets throughout all his books, to raise the bar, to challenge and excite us with words—to write for us. Thank you, Mr. Koontz! Whatever you may think of his stories, at least he writes!

A note to modern writers, on the off chance that you care: “My patience is running thin. Write for me! Or I’ll just wait for the movie.”

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

Passive Voice: A Writing Sin – Part 3


“Placing the Cart before the Horse”

(Note: If you haven’t read my articles, Passive Voice: A Writing Sin – Part 1 and Passive Voice: A Writing Sin – Part 2, I recommend you do so before continuing with this one.)

I want to clarify what I mean when I say that you must “Place the horse before the cart.”

A writer often creates Passive Voice sentences because his thought processes are out of order. He thinks first of the object, then the act, and finally the subject. Thus, his thought process works something like this:

1) There was this thing, and;

2) Something happened to this thing, and;

3) What happened to the thing was done by this character (if any).

Notice how, in that line of passive thinking, it’s all about the thing. As a result, the writer will likely create a Passive Voice sentence, because the thing is the object of the sentence—the cart—yet he’s thinking about it as the subject.

The writer must correct—re-order—his thought processes to work like this:

4) There was this character, and;

5) This character did something, and;

6) In fact, this character did it to/for/with someone or something.

Notice how, in this new line of active thinking, it’s all about the character. As a result, the writer will likely create an Active Voice sentence, because he has made the character the subject of the sentence—the horse—now in its rightful place.

Thus, the keys are:

A) Subject = Horse

B) Object = Cart

C) The Subject commits the Act.

D) The Act affects the Object.

E) Place the horse before the cart.

F) This is right: “The horse pulls the cart.”

G) This is wrong: “The cart is pulled by the horse.”

Now, like all “rules” of writing, this is not a 100%-er. If you wish to provide special emphasis to a particular segment of the sentence, you might place that segment at the end of the sentence—where the reader best feels the emphasis. However, when you do that, ask yourself the critical questions: Does that closing really punch? Will the reader really feel that? Or did I just create a sloppy sentence for no good reason?

I will now illustrate further through a series of specific examples I’ve seen in pieces I’ve edited. As always, I shall keep confidential the authors’ names and story titles, to protect the not-so-innocent. [Insert chuckle here.]

BAD: Midsummer’s earthy colors of the landscape were dominated by dots of green.

(Note: These “reversed order” Passive Voice sentences typically run long. Another benefit of Active Voice sentences: they run shorter. In this example, I cut the 12-word original by 25%, down to 9 words.)

GOOD: Dots of green dominated the landscape’s midsummer earthy colors.

BAD: Adjustment was expedited when the captain called for a meeting with the ninety-two passengers on the second day out.

(Note: The author started the sentence with the object.)

GOOD: The captain expedited adjustment when he called for a meeting with the ninety-two passengers on the second day out.

BAD: The wound had been made, and now the men could not be placated by my yielding.

GOOD: I’d already inflicted the wound, and I would not placate the men now by yielding.

BAD: Outside, the soft rattle of pebbles dragged back down the beach was pierced by the aching cries of the gulls that arced and skimmed above the foam.

(Note: This is a difficult sentence on a number of levels. Read it aloud. You might decide, as I did, that the reader would appreciate a chance to catch his breath. Work it through in a couple of steps if necessary. First [GOOD], kill the Passive Voice. Then [BETTER], aim for the best possible structure.)

GOOD: Outside, the aching cries of gulls, which arced and skimmed above the foam, pierced the soft rattle of pebbles dragged back down the beach by the tide.

BETTER: Outside, gulls arced and skimmed above the foam, and their aching cries pierced the soft rattle of pebbles dragged back down the beach by the tide.

BAD: Our band was chosen for the gathering by the other band’s elders.

GOOD: The other band’s elders chose our band for the gathering.

In closing, please indulge me as I remind you once more to make these your watchwords: Keep it strong and direct!

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

Passive Voice: A Writing Sin – Part 2


“An Act without an Actor”

(Note: If you haven’t read my article, Passive Voice: A Writing Sin – Part 1, I recommend you do so before continuing with this one.)

Writers often create sentences in which something happens, but it happens out of thin air—no character actually does it. An act occurs, but no actor commits the act.

Example: “A stone skipped across the pond.”

Presto! It must be magic! Nah, it’s just poor writing—usually. On rare occasions—very rare—you may want to show action without revealing the actor, as a tool for building temporary suspense.

Example: “The door suddenly slammed behind him!”

However, the vast majority of this type of Passive Voice sentence occurs not to build suspense, but because the writer fails to commit to that which matters most—his characters’ actions. As I said in my previous hub, readers invest themselves in your characters and in their actions, not in actions that happen as if out of thin air. Without a character to invest in, readers lose interest (exception: Setting descriptions).

Will readers put down your story because you gave them one poor sentence? Of course not. However, if you dump too many meaningless acts into your piece—meaning things keep happening, but nobody does anything—they’ll bail out on you.

Readers rarely care for this: “A stone skipped across the pond.” They want to know who’s doing the skipping: “Susie skipped a stone across the pond.”

Readers care about people—your characters—and they care about actions only to the extent that characters commit them, or to the extent that those acts affect the characters.

I will now illustrate further through a series of specific examples I’ve seen in pieces I’ve edited. As always, I shall keep confidential the authors’ names and story titles, to protect the not-so-innocent. [Insert chuckle here.]

BAD: The words were not spoken so much as a command as a gentle prodding, an understanding and empathy that gave Bill strength.

(Note: We see here no actor, just an act. If you’ve mentioned the character’s name in a previous sentence, and you haven’t changed subjects, use a simple pronoun—he, she, etc.—to clarify the action. Otherwise, provide the acting character’s name.)

GOOD: Bill did not speak the words as a command so much as a gentle prod, with understanding and empathy that gave John strength.

BETTER: Bill offered the words not as a command, but as a gentle prod, with understanding and empathy to give John strength.

BAD:The wound had been made, and now the men could not be placated by my yielding. Without John willing to throw himself into the fray, I would surely be struck down by their numbers. As detestable as it seemed, my only recourse was undeniable: I would have to break through their lines and flee.

(Note: First, we have the act without an actor. Second, we have subject/sbject reversals.)

GOOD: I’d already inflicted the wound, and I would not placate the men now by yielding. If John didn’t throw himself into the fray, I would surely fall to their numbers. My only recourse, though detestable, was undeniable: break through their lines and flee.

BETTER: I’d already inflicted the wound, and I would not placate the men now by yielding. I needed John to throw himself into the fray, or I would surely fall to such a large group of soldiers. Although I detested my only recourse, I had no choice: I must break through their lines and flee.

(Note: Why is this better? Well, this is a first-person narrative, and we are now strongly in the narrator-character’s POV—his emotional state—with this BETTER alternative.)

BAD: The petition was met with indignant silence.

(Note: As readers, we can only assume that someone did the meeting. Please be specific and direct.)

GOOD: The captain responded to the petition with indignant silence.

BAD: A second, more urgent message bypassed the captain’s ranking officers to appear on his main screen.

(Note: Three cheers for that very talented message! [Insert chuckle here.] The inert object, “urgent message,” cannot act on its own. We need a subject here.)

GOOD: The passengers bypassed the captain’s ranking officers and sent a second, more urgent message directly to his main screen.

BAD: The lodge was kept ready for ceremonies, advisers and visitors when the gatherings came to their camp.

(Note: Who did the keeping?)

GOOD: The Counsel Elders kept the lodge for ceremonies, advisors, and visitors when the gatherings came to their camp.

BETTER: The Counsel Elders kept the lodge for ceremonies, advisors, and visitors.

In closing, let me remind you—because I just can’t seem to say it enough—to make these your watchwords: Keep it strong and direct!

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

Passive Voice: A Writing Sin – Part 1


How To Kill Strong Narrative

As a reader, I hate Passive Voice as much as any other writing sin—and more than most. As an editor, I darn near pop an aneurysm when I see it.

1) Readers view Passive Voice as weak and indecisive, as if the author lacks confidence.

…a) When readers see that, they too lose confidence—and interest.

…b) The effect is subtle; for many readers, it occurs at a subconscious level. They may not know why they don’t like it, but they’ll dislike it, all the same.

2) Readers invest themselves in the characters’ actions, not in actions that happen as if out of thin air.

…a) I refer to this nasty Passive Voice practice as “An Act without an Actor.” See my hub entry, Passive Voice: A Writing Sin – Part 2, for more on this.

…b) Without a character to invest in, readers lose interest.

…c) The only real exception to this is description of Setting.

3) Writers tend to scratch the subject of the larger paragraph/segment from that sentence, or at least relegate them to secondary status, and convert the object to the subject.

…a) Readers rarely care for this: A rock skipped across the pond.”

…b) They won’t like this: The rock was skipped across the pond by Danny.”

…c) However, they might like this: “Danny skipped a rock across the pond.”

…d) Writers who engage in this nasty Passive Voice practice what I call “Placing the Cart before the Horse.” See my hub entry, Passive Voice: A Writing Sin – Part 3, for more on this.

4) Passive Voice often results from the author’s attempt not to commit, not to offend, not to stand firm. His fear and anxiety often lead him down a meandering, excruciating, wordy route to the end of the sentence.

As Stephen King says in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Scribner):

Two pages of the passive voice—just about any legal document ever written, in other words, not to mention reams of bad fiction—make me want to scream. It’s weak, it’s circuitous, and it’s frequently tortuous, as well. How about this: My first kiss will always be recalled by me as how my romance with Shayna was begun. Oh, man—who farted, right? A simpler way to express this idea—sweeter and more forceful, as well—might be this: My romance with Shayna began with our first kiss. I’ll never forget it. I’m not in love with this because it uses with twice in four words, but at least we’re out of that awful passive voice.

Since Mr. King hates “with” twice in four words, how about this as another alternative: My romance with Shayna began when we first kissed. What a moment!

I will now illustrate further through a series of specific examples I’ve seen in pieces I’ve edited. As always, I shall keep confidential the authors’ names and story titles, to protect the not-so-innocent. (Insert chuckle here.)

BAD: Susan and the old man had chipped enough flint to make more tools than would ever be used.

GOOD: Jeremy and the old man had chipped enough flint to make more tools than they would ever use.

BAD: Jimmy was comforted by the three small pups Mike had left behind, but he still felt empty.

GOOD: The three small pups Mike had left behind comforted Jimmy, but he still felt empty.

BAD: Mary shuffled on the rug until she was squarely facing her son.

(Note: Writers commonly use conjugations such as was doing anything” in a Past Tense narrative, but it rarely satisfies. If you suffer this bad habit, break it!)

GOOD: Mary shuffled on the rug until she squarely faced her son.

BETTER: Mary shuffled on the rug, spun on her heels and faced her son. She stood close enough to feel his breath on her nose.

BAD: Time is surely a measurement that could not have been marked in a cold and motionless void.

(Note: The author also mixed verb tenses here, using “is” in a Past Tense narrative.)

GOOD: Time was surely without measurement in that cold and motionless void.

BETTER: Time held neither measure nor meaning in that cold and motionless void.

BAD: Speed, time, and distance are so closely related that one can’t be considered without involving the other two.

(Note: Sometimes you have to stretch yourself a bit. Opportunities like this one are where writers earn their keep.)

GOOD: Speed, time and distance link inexorably, and we can’t consider one without involving the other two.

BETTER: Speed, time and distance function as a single, three-part equation, for one exists only where the other two are present.

BAD: The words were not spoken so much as a command as a gentle prodding, an understanding and empathy that gave Bill strength.

GOOD: He did not speak the words as a command so much as a gentle prod, with understanding and empathy that gave Bill strength.

BETTER: John offered the words not as a command, but as a gentle prod, with understanding and empathy to give Bill strength.

BAD:The wound had been made, and now the men could not be placated by my yielding. Without John willing to throw himself into the fray, I would surely be struck down by their numbers. As detestable as it seemed, my only recourse was undeniable: I would have to break through their lines and flee.

(Note: As is so often the case, Passive Voice led the author down a long, circuitous, Wordy path. On top of everything else, the following alternative chops the original word count of 54 down to 43, a 20% reduction.)

GOOD: I’d already inflicted the wound, and I would not placate the men now by yielding. If John didn’t throw himself into the fray, I would surely fall to their numbers. My only recourse, though detestable, was undeniable: break through their lines and flee.

Let me urge you, as I do all my clients, to make these your watchwords: Keep it strong and direct!

If you’ve studied the art and craft of writing at all, you no doubt have seen these warnings against Passive Voice. Nonetheless, I shall now call out the reinforcements, as it were.

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers – John Gardner (Vintage Books)

I’ve excerpted the following, in applicable segments, from pages 98-100:

In the work of beginning writers, especially those weak in the basic skills of English composition, the usual mistake is that the writer distracts the reader by clumsy or incorrect writing… But the standard third-person narrator can never miss. If the narrator slips into faulty syntax, the reader’s mind tracks away from the action [sic] to the problem of figuring out what the sentence means. The distraction is almost certain to be emotional as well as intellectual, since the reader has every right to feel that the writer’s business is to say what he means clearly…

Clumsy writing is an even more common mistake in the work of amateurs, though it shows up even in the works of very good writers…

The most obvious forms of clumsiness, really failures in the basic skills, include such mistakes as inappropriate or excessive use of the passive voice…

Except in stock locutions, such as “You were paid yesterday,” “The Germans were defeated,” or “The project was abandoned,” the passive voice is virtually useless in fiction except when used for comic effect, as when the writer mimics some fool’s slightly pompous way of speaking or quotes some institutional directive. The active voice is almost invariably more direct and vivid: “Your parrot bit me” as opposed to (passive) “I was bitten by your parrot.” …In a story presented by the conventional omniscient narrator—an objective and largely impersonal formal narrative voice like, say, Tolstoy’s—the passive voice is almost certain to offend and distract…

On Writing Well – William Zinsser (Harper Collins)

I’ve excerpted the following, in applicable segments, from pages 108-109:

Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb. The difference between an active-verb style and a passive-verb style—in clarity and vigor—is the difference between life and death for a writer.

“Joe hit him” is strong. “He was hit by Joe” is weak. The first is short and vivid and direct; it leaves no doubt about who did what. The second is necessarily longer and it has an insipid quality; something was done by somebody to someone else. A style that consists mainly of passive constructions, especially if the sentences are long, saps the reader’s energy. Nobody quite knows what is being perpetrated by whom and on whom.

I use “perpetrated” because it’s the kind of word that passive-voice writers are fond of. They prefer long words of Latin origin to short Anglo-Saxon words—which compounds their trouble and makes their sentences still more glutinous…

Verbs are the most important of all your tools. They push the sentence forward and give it momentum. Active verbs push hard; passive verbs tug fitfully. Active verbs also enable us to visualize an activity because they require a pronoun or a noun to put them in motion… Don’t choose one that is dull or merely serviceable. Make active verbs activate your sentences, and try to avoid the kind that need an appended preposition to complete their work. Don’t “set up” a business that you can “start” or “launch.” Don’t say that the president of the company “stepped down.” Did he “resign?” Did he “retire?” Did he “get fired?” Be precise. Use precise verbs.

Make Your Words Work – Gary Provost (Writer’s Digest Books)

I’ve excerpted the following, in applicable segments, from pages 20-21:

In writing…active is more interesting than passive. …Your reader will fix his attention on the active words and phrases.

New writers often fall into the habit of casting their characters as the passive recipients of some activity, when they should be writing about people or objects doing things, making things happen.

A key to finding the active voice is to write about people, not things. “A good time was had by all,” for example, is a passive-voice sentence about good times. “Everybody had a good time” is an active-voice sentence about people.

The tip-off to these dull, passive-voice sentences is usually a compound verb such as “was driven” or “were presented.” Cash them in for sharp, short, interesting, active verbs, and your writing will work better.

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Macmillan), is another indispensable source (many refer to it as the bible for writers). They address Passive Voice on pages 18-19.

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

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