Thursday, February 21, 2008

Yoh! Dog, You're Rockin' Now - What Editors SEE Wrong and Right on Your Page by Robert W. Walker

Sub-Title: Editors and Agents Only Know What They Want When They Sees it on de Stage . . . ahhh, page that is . . .and if it’s not in the “frame” then it’s not on the page; rather it has remained “in your head” where it may be visual to an audience of one –you alone! So get the whole scene in the frame or on stage or rather on the page.

Okay, here is what will turn an editor away screaming in the night and running from your page: Hanging over the door was a neon sign that read Mitch’s Bar & Grill, but the neon was so weak as to be unable to light up every letter.

Not only is this passive voice with two WASes in the sentence, but it tells us the sign is blinking without ever showing us the sign is blinking. A blinking sign oughta be seen not heard about. Put it on the page. Let us see the blinking and maybe how it looks and “feels” to your main character. Sift the neon through his or her “mind” or “blood” bro.

Okay, here is what might turn an editor ON to your Voice: Hanging over the door, the blinking neon sign read: M TH’ B R & GR ll. Stan immediately groaned in rhythm to the on-off, on-off sign. Where had Jill sent him and why?

Okay, here is another groaner for an agent or editor looking at your work: A vast smudgy picture window was to the right of the door, which gave Stuart the disturbing feeling that patrons of the place were peering out at him, studying him along with the busy street.

Okay, first when’s the last time you saw a street that was busy? Busy doing what? Technically speaking, very technically speaking, streets aren’t busy, they are “busy with” traffic or foot traffic or both but streets just lay there last time I looked. Believe me, readers do read as literally as that at times. Just LOL here, but the point is watch out for those misplaced modifiers or unintended results. The honest definition of a misplaced phrase is Unintended Result.

So now, how can that again passive voice be energized like the Bunny it wants to be? Here is an active voice rewrite of same sentence, admittedly too long in its original: As he approached Mitch’s front door, a vast, smudged plate glass window STARED back at Stuart along with every local patron. The locals made no excuse at studying him with wary eyes, not so much as a pretense of studying the foot traffic and cars going past, but directly at Stuart through the prism of that dirt-painted window.

Passive Voice – Active Voice 101 – the mind wants to go there—immediately to the passive voice. Why? A lazy muscle, the brain grabs for the quickest, simplest method of TELLing a story. It has to work to SHOW a story as it unfolds—has to draw on verbs that convey visual imagery, along with drawing on the five senses, and sometimes the magical sixth sense. Before you start dramatic writing, dig out that fourth grade lesson on Active vs. Passive Voice. Voice is everything in dramatic writing. A book like The Lovely Bones, Water for Elephants, and others do not rely on action and shoot em ups, and screaming damsels in distress and yet they work as bestsellers. Why? Voice. We become enraptured by HOW every sentence is created and how lovely the voice of the narrative sounds to the ear. Voice is the sum of all the parts of a novel; voice is the culmination of every element and elemental decision the writer makes. And it is Voice and Active Voice that an agent and\or an editor is looking for, a voice that he or she cannot turn away from (or put down). A voice that creates scenes and chapters that have a powerful effect on the reader. Scenes and chapters that are memorable years later.

Stick to ONE point of view per scene and\or chapter. Even in multiple point of view tales such as I do, decide whose chapter is this, whose scene is this, and stick like glue to the one POV that dominates this scene. Whose story is it anyway? Whose scene is it anyway? Stamp that on your forehead as you work. Do not slip in and out of two and three points of view within the framework of a singular scene. This is Dr. Tewes’ scene in Shadows in the White City. The next is from her daughter’s point of view, Gabrielle. The next is from our main, dominant POV, that of Inspector Alastair Ransom for whom City for Ranson is named. In City of the Absent we get whole scenes from the point of view of William Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, as we do from Dr. Christian Fenger, surgeon of the day, and from Alastair’s closest friend Philo Keane, as well as Ransom’s worst enemies and his snitch, Bosch, who might sell him out at any time and does. But always it is Ransom’s tales in this trilogy, and the reader can accept that Ransom, at some point, comes to know everything the reader knows. Whose story is it anyway? The broken detective, Ransom, so married to his crumbling, fading vision of Chicago.

So in essence DON’T do this:

There was an antique cash register at the end of the bar nearest Stan’s stool where he sat. There was a key for every amount fro one penny to twenty dollars.

Note how There typically always leads to a Was or a Were, so try to avoid THERE as well as the WAS beast and the Were creatures – passives that devour every opportunity for a visual, strong verb. Define me a Was. Look at what it appears like in your head. There is no visuals for verbs to be. What is a be? Draw me a picture of it.

So in essence DO this and you will astonish friends, family and even yourself –

At the end of the counter where Stan hunched over his coffee, an antique cash register chimed with each transaction. Phil pointed out the keys and said, “From a penny to a twenty, each key. Take a look! Love this old thing.”

My work in progress to be published in Spring 2009, DEAD ON, has taken many a rewrite to get such matters right each line of the way, from the penny to the twenty, the simple sentence to the compound complex that is. To get images working in the readers’ minds so that I can live up to the reviewer who said of my work, “Walker quite literally snatches the reader’s mind.” I can only do that with visually stimulating and powerful verbs like hunched, chimed, pointed, and in getting my characters to speak aloud, to move, make transactions, point, smile, laugh, and cry. This can’t be done in sentences beginning with There and using verbs like WAS and WERE.

OFFERING YOU NOW for free the first chapter of DEAD ON by writing to me at with query line Dead On. Dead On, Dead On—I love your product but I hate your ad!! The other way to see dramatic writing is to get hold of my Chicago City Series – City for Ransom, Shadows in White City (award-winner, the Lovey Award from Love is Murder – ), and City of the Absent at your local mystery bookstore, at, Barns and Noble or

The best to you in your writing endeavors –
Rob Walker --for recent photos of me and Johnnie Depp hamming it up. -- for Psych 101 for character development\robertwwalkerbooks --to become a friend!

No comments: