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One of the best overall techniques to improve your writing is to eliminate the passive voice whenever and wherever possible. By reducing being verbs, writers can energize action images. Verbs of passive voice communicate no action and leave the reader with an image that is like a still photograph. For example, these sentences are passive: Passive: The runaway horse was ridden into town by an old, white-whiskered rancher. Passive: The grocery store was robbed by two armed men. By changing these sentences into active voice, the rancher and the two armed men become active figures in the sentence: Active: An old, white-whiskered rancher rode the runaway horse into town. Active: Two armed men robbed the grocery store. Being verbs, even when not used in a passive voice construction, slow down the writing. Replacing being verbs with verbs that show action readily improves the scene. For example: Passive: The gravel road was on the left side of the barn Active: The gravel road curled around the left side of the barn. Journal: Think of a situation in which a long-held fear or anxiety that you have comes true (this should be a situation which could, but has not yet happened). Now, using the thirdperson mode of narration, write a scene describing a fictional version of yourself dealing with the situation. Write only in active voice as described above.


A much simplified way to think of participles is as an -ing verb tagged onto the beginning or ending of a sentence. (There are -ed forms, but we will not get into them for this exercise.) For example, the sentence "The diamond-scaled snakes attacked their prey" shows a little bit of what is going on, but look at what happens when a few participles are tagged onto the beginning of the sentence: "Hissing, slithering, and coiling, the diamond-scaled snakes attacked their prey." The participle creates action. Suddenly, we see the snakes in motion, all of them, and we can even hear the hissing and slithering of their action. Here is an example of participles used by Ernest Hemingway in his novel Old Man and the Sea: Shifting the weight of the line to his left shoulder and kneeling carefully, he washed his hand in the ocean and held it there, submerged, for more than a minute, watching the blood trail away and the steady movement of the water against his hand as the boat moved. (56-57) Ok. Now, try it yourself. Look at the following sentences and add action to them by tagging on participles at the beginning or ending of each. The pole-vaulter thrust his body forward. Susan froze. The lion looked for freedom.

Journal: There is a great war. It is set in the past, present, future, or an entirely fictional universe. The weapons being used may be anything from clubs and rocks to flip-flops and pie, and the warriors may be human or hippopotami or whatever. Write the climactic battle scene, but use a lot of participles. Go overboard with them, more than you would ever normally do.

ABSOLUTES An absolute is another powerful technique for adding action and detail to your writing. An absolute is a two-word combination--a noun and an -ing or -ed verb added onto a sentence. For example, instead of saying "The cat climbed the tree," you can use two absolutes to give that climbing and the cat much more detail: "Claws digging, feet kicking, the cat climbed the tree." Try this: Close your eyes and picture a mountain climber moving along a steep cliff. Visualize this sentence: "The mountain climber edged along the cliff." What did you see? Any details? What happens when you add a few absolutes to the end of the sentence: "The mountain climber edged along the cliff, hands shaking, feet trembling." You can add additional detail to the absolute as well by tagging on a prepositional phrase: Feet trembling on the snow-covered rocks, the mountain climber edged along the cliff. Now, try some examples, adding detail through absolutes: The deep-sea diver peered once more at the coral reef. Susan glanced at the clock. The kitten yawned, awaking from its nap.

Journal: Write a scene in which person/creature A is attempting to get to location B while person/creature C is attempting to prevent them from doing so. You have to write it all in one (long-ass) sentence. You can use commas (obviously). Focus on using on using a lot of absolutes as detailed above.


Just as the participle and the absolute are terrific at amplifying action, the appositive is a great technique to amplify still images. The best way to think of an appositive is as a noun that adds a second image to a preceding noun. For example, by adding a second image to the noun "raccoon" in the sentence "The raccoon enjoys eating turtle eggs," the writer/artist can enhance the first image with a new perspective: "The raccoon, a scavenger, enjoys eating turtle eggs." The noun "scavenger" follows the first noun; it is set off by commas and adds a significant new image to the first image. The appositive can be a single word, such as "scavenger," but it can also be an entire clause. For example, "The raccoon, a midnight scavenger who roams lake shorelines in search of food, enjoys eating turtle eggs." Try creating a few appositives of your own. The landscape stretched before them. Susan's mother stared absent-mindedly into the hallway. The alligator ambled across the hot Florida highway.

Journal: Describe a scene in which your closest friends that you know the best are all gathered together doing any sort of activity. Use plenty of appositives to describe/amplify their personalities and the setting of the activity.


An adjective out of order, used most often by authors of fiction, is still a useful technique to apply to non-fiction. We have all seen sentences that overload descriptions with too many adjectives, such as "The large, red-eyed, angry bull moose charged the intruder." To avoid such an overbearing string of adjective, writers can use a technique called "adjectives out of order." To apply this technique, leave one of the original adjectives in its place, and move the others so they follow the noun. For example: "The large bull moose, red-eyed and angry, charged the intruder. Try it for yourselves in the following boring sentences. The old and wrinkled woman smiled upon her newborn great-grandson. The twisted and tormented boxer felt no compassion for his contender. The tired and hungry cheetah started at the gazelle, which would soon become his dinner.

Journal: Choose a fictional character from a book/film you like, or one from a piece of fiction you have written. You and this character are taking on a road trip to ________. On the way, you stop at a tourist trap called The Most Ridiculous Place Ever. Narrate the scene, do a lot of the adjective shifting dealie, you get it