One consistent VOICE-style or Voice is the point of Part 1 and 2 of this diatribe on the single most important element of dramatic writiing. A pointed voice, strong and firm, photogenic-inducing and active is called for in DRAMATIC fiction if you wish to keep your forward-moving-dynamo going forward and not stalling out.
Passive-sounding narrators—male or female—lack control and are hard to understand. If the authorial Voice suffers from undetermined and unclear points or images, the result is less than pointed or photogenic. Like it or not, we learn visually and we read visually, so that an entirely passive scene riddled with WASes and WEREs and ISes and AREs and HASes and HADs that often beget more Qualifying is in effect NO SCENE at all but a telling rather than a showing. The DEATH of drama in and of itself as every writer of fiction knows.
Mary was up at dawn. She was an avid runner, so she was instantly busy pulling on her sneakers and sweats. Soon she was out the door and was running to her heart’s content when she saw that she was to be confronted by a homeless man. He was wearing the usual garb of the homeless, and he was twice her size. In a word, he was intimidating. She was unsure of her next move. She stopped, bent over, pretended to tie her shoe, thinking herself safe from the man. But when she looked up, she found him staring straight into her eyes. “Mary, it’s me, your brother Ben.”
There are a total of nine WASes in the first six sentences of the TELLing example above. Sentences seven and eight are SHOWing sentences as they both rely on action verbs in Active Sentences, whereas the first seven are Passive Sentences. Notice how qualifying, how iffy the first seven sentences are, and how absolutely sure of himself the author becomes in the last two sentences.
A storyteller who peppers his tales with qualifiers and passives manages to cut his own throat and is easily the example to point to in an exercise for what NOT to do in fiction and dramatic writing. Always being an absolute, always practice an ABSOLUTE stance over a qualifying one in fiction as in the lines from works on sale everywhere or works in progress by this author:
From PSI Blue: Psyhic Sensory Investigation
FBI Headquarters Secret Psychic Detection Lab modern day…
Special Agent Aurelia Murphy Hiyakawa sat clothed in a virgin white terry robe, in the lotus position, electrodes attached and grounded to the open air copper pipe pyramid, a device she’d designed to enhance her psychic projections and astral journeys. A small sterile white mat lie before her, and on the mat lay six items she’d been asked to “read”. The objects held a strange communion with her. She fingered each item, tossing several out of the pyramid, holding onto other items as she went.
From Cuba Blue:
Off the coast of Havana, Cuba modern day…
The coast of Havana’s clear-blue tropical sea heard the mechanical cry of screeching rust-encrusted gears that suddenly slammed to a standstill. Several nautical miles north of Canal del Entrada, Cuba, the whining pulley ratcheted once, then twice with biting and chomping. Then it stopped dead again on the dimly-lit shrimp trawler Sanabella II. In fact, the unexpected stillness stopped all activity aboard ship, and save for the screeching hungry seagulls, the deafening quiet reigned. Wide-eyed, the men, frozen in position, stared first at the choaked-off windlass and then at one another afraid to breathe, afraid to hope. Fishing had been wretchedly poor.
From City for Ransom:
Chicago, Illinois, June 1, 1893...3AM
The newly formed and lettered sign tore at its chain moorings where it dangled over the modest brownstone house, the shingle reading Dr. James Phineas Tewes, Phrenological and Magnetic Examiner until a lightning strike hit it, turning it into an unrecognizable charred mess.
Across town to the sound of thunder, lightning, wind, rain, and the clock tolling 5AM, Alastair Ransom climbed from bed, unable to sleep, his skin afire with malarial fever. He dosed himself with a hefty tumbler of quinine and Kentucky whiskey. He imagined strangling Dr. Caine McKinnette for having run out of his supply of quinine and antimony. He breathed in deeply, imagining the pleasure of his hands around the good doctor’s throat. Then once more what really troubled him began invading his night: the awful, bloody murder case that’d fallen into his lap the day before.
THESE ARE ALL examples of opening with active verbs, the conscious choice of few to no qualifiers, no WASes please! Any elementary or high school grammar text is worth revisiting to rekindle these notions into fire in a writer’s gut. It’s the little things that make a female lead compelling. Revisit Passive vs. Active Voice, the handful of pages devoted to Qualifiers vs. Absolutes (voice), and while at it, look up sentence combining for the 4 types of sentences— Simple, Compound, Complex, and Compound Complex. Imagine it, what Shakespeare utilized we all have to work with—shapes already formed, voice choice, to qualify or not to qualify, to BE or not to BE, and whether tis nobler in the mind to use a hammer blow of a two word sentence like Jesus wept, OR rather to compound it, complex it or compound complex it as in the following:
Jesus wept. (pow, zap, bang, zoom! Simple single/first base)
Jesus wept, and others watched. (rings different bell in compound set)
In his sixteenth year on the planet, Jesus wept. (complex adds fragmentary introduction)
Jesus, in his sixteenth year on the planet, wept.
introduction becomes interrupting fragmentary, and we ring another kind of bell)
Now the homer of a sentence, the big boy: Compound Complex….
In his sixteenth year, Jesus wept, while from afar, others curiously, cautiously watched.
(intro. Frag) S + V (intro. Frag) S + adv. + adv. + V
Each choice we make, every little choice, becomes a major decision, and it is for this reason many people do not write, as it is the magic of decision-making, and writing is really about making a thousand decisions per sentence, per paragraph, per scene, per chapter. Not all your stories need take on the same voice, but within that single story or novel, your ONE consistent is that you be consistent and true to the voice you choose—whether male, female, black, white, yellow or green. But your Authorial voice must need have its own logic and consistent mindset or ‘psychology’. In other words: VOICE is the most important element of your story…..especially if you hope to make it uniquely feminine, sir…or uniquely male, ma’am. In essence, you have to “become” your character before you can SOUND like her or him or it. Finally, write to your opposite” is my watchword as this forces you into a true writing challenge. So set your stories in exotic places you’ve never been with exotic characters you’ve never known. You’ll surprise yourself and by all means avoid the WASes and the Wazoos!
Robert W. Walker is the author of over forty novels with a record eight series heroes and heroines. His most enduring female leads are Dr. Jane Tewes from City for Ransom, Dr. Jessica Coran of the Instinct Series, and Meredyth Sanger of the Edge Series. My long-standing website is chock full with advice and examples. Visit for the fun of it or for the lessons to be had at http://www.robertwwalkerbooks.com/ and at www.myspace.com/robertwwalkerbooks.
Robert W. Walker