Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing Class - Editing for Publishers: What your English teachers never told you

When writing &/or editing fiction, bear in mind that publishers prefer:

· Active rather than passive writing. eg. A waiter was serving Sally a piece of pie when a speeding Volvo shattered the window (16 words) rather than: Sally was being served a piece of pie by the waiter when the window was shattered by a speeding Volvo (20 words).

· Strong action verbs rather than weaker verbs attached to adverbs. eg. John strode down the aisle and grabbed the bride (9 words) rather than John walked purposefully down the aisle and forcefully took hold of the bride (13 words).

· The use of a few, well-chosen adjectives rather than a profusion of adjectives. eg. The essay was long, and yet it lacked depth (9 words) rather than The essay was long, drawn-out and extensive, and yet it lacked depth (12 words). Or better still, no adjectives at all. eg. The essay lacked depth despite its length (7 words).

It’s not a question of ‘good’ writing or ‘bad’ writing. Nor is it the case that the passive voice, passive verbs, adverbs or strings of adjectives should never be used. It’s just that, as the above examples show, active writing, strong verbs and fewer adjectives will generally make your writing sharper, clearer, and above all, shorter.

If you can get your message across in as few words as possible, your work will be more engaging and easy to read. And if your book is a long one, it won’t be because your writing is long-winded, but because you’ve focused on developing your plot and characters and exploring your themes.

Your thoughts on this one?


  1. Oh, I'm an adjective & adverb junkie. Working on it. :/ My problem is that I use strong verbs and then include a few adjective/adverbs, just because I like words in general, so I use as many of my favorite ones as I can. And I have quite a few favorite words.

  2. I love the look of a sentence when I manage to get it into active voice!

  3. Lila, I love words too, and there will always be times when adjectives and adverbs are the right words to use. And Jeigh, I tend to agree. On the whole, sentences do look better when they're in active voice.