#9: But I Don’t Wanna Go To School!

And where would you be now if you hadn’t, hm? It’s the same thing with writing. You have to know how to write in the style that today’s publishers demand. Because – stop me if you heard this – publishing guidelines change all the time.

The two most common errors new writers make in their narrative styles involve point of view and using passive voice.

Point of view (POV) Today this means that in each scene, everything must be experienced from only ONE character’s viewpoint.

You may only describe what that character sees. You may only say things that character would say, think things that character would think. If that character doesn’t know it, you can’t say it.

Years back, before publishing guidelines changed, it was perfectly fine to say things like: His blue eyes glared into her brown ones. Not anymore. Unless he is thinking (and you better have a darn good reason for him to do so) “I’m glaring at her brown eyes with my blue ones…” you can’t say it.

And head-hopping is verboten as well. “He thought she was pretty. She though his mother dressed him.” Nope. No can do. Only one point of view is allowed at a time, and it needs to remain that way until a scene break.

Passive voice is a bit harder to pin down. By definition it means that in a sentence, the subject and the direct object switch places. In practice, it means the author has taken one step away from the action. The voice is passive, not active. And active is required. For example:

“The gentleman had run by him” versus “The gentleman ran by him”

“The Norsemen was coming closer” versus “The Norseman approached”

Generally speaking, if you use “was —ing” or “had —ed” then you’ve used passive voice. And please – never use the awful double-had: “He had had the chance before.” Ick! How about: “The chance, once gone, was his again.”

Do a word search for “was” and “had” on your document. Some usage will be necessary, but change all the ones you can to more active phrasing.

Also – don’t start too many sentences with a phrase, because that’s also passive and can be very confusing. I read this in a new author’s critique-group submission: “Gliding across the floor, a head appeared” followed by “resuming the task, her head disappeared.”

Really not what he meant to say.

So what if you wrote notes to the cute boy – or about the cute boy – all through English class? Every year? What are your options for learning grammar now?

Start with your writer’s organization. Genre chapters regularly share information about online writing classes. These classes generally cost $15-$35 each and are often run through a Yahoo group. Classes last 4-6 weeks and you get personal feedback on your work. Check out:






You can also take writing classes at a community college (some of these are online as well, so you can “attend” anywhere  in the country). These classes will cost more, but you’ll earn college credit.

Whatever you choose, remember this: you will be judged on your ability to use language effectively and correctly. So get it right… and write!

6 Responses to “#9: But I Don’t Wanna Go To School!”

  1. 1 Tina Lynn 12/31/2009 at 5:36 PM

    This is great info! Wow, do I abuse the passive voice. Geez! Maybe school is necessary.

  2. 3 Lindy Schneider 01/01/2010 at 10:44 AM

    Great info! Reading it, my head disappeared… no, no. As I read it my head whirled, no, how about, thanks, I got a lot out of your blog. : )

  3. 4 Pamala Knight 01/01/2010 at 11:28 AM

    Excellent post. Thanks for all the useful information.

  4. 5 Laurie Schnebly Campbell 01/05/2010 at 9:26 AM

    Wow, just catching up on your blog after Christmas vacation — and what an honor to see my classes in here along with those other fabulous picks. Thanks, Kris!

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