Thursday, March 31, 2011

This Blog Was Written by Me and Other Crimes of Passive Voice

We still have one more day before National Poetry Month begins, so I will sneak in some prose advice by request. (Thank you, Amanda.)

Imagine you are lounging in the back yard on a glorious Spring day, a book lies on your lap and a tall glass of ice tea is within reach. You are reading a mystery, and it begins like this:

It was night, and he should have known not to venture out on a night so dark it reeked of danger. Menace hung in the air like soot, but Edgar needed to see Seville. He sped his gait and thought of her waiting for him in her candlelit grace, no doubt wearing red. Yes, she’d be clad in red with her blonde hair hanging loosely across her shoulders. Edgar’s pace quickened. He heard a click, like a lighter. A figure stepped from the shadow. A gun was being held in his hand and was being pointed at Edgar. WAIT A MINUTE! What happened here? THIS WRITER COMMITTED A HORRIBLE CRIME. She robbed the paragraph of its tension by using (horror!) PASSIVE VOICE.
Up until we see the gun, the passage has drama and tension. Yet the moment when we should see the most tension, that gun falls flat and the reader has either tossed the book in outdoor fireplace or he is asleep.

There are three problems with this sentence:
1. Overuse of the verb to be.
2. Passive construction makes the GUN the direct object of the sentence rather than Edgar.
3. An overly long sentence dissolves the tension.
Also, using the pronoun "his hand" might be confusing. Whose hand? Edgar’s, or the shadowy figure’s?

Here is a way to solve the sentence:
A figure stepped from the shadows and pointed gun at Edgar.

NOW we see Edgar is in danger and we want to know what happens next...

Tip: If you want to decrease the distance between you and your readers, keep your sentences active. Passive voice is like a passive person; you really NEVER KNOW WHAT THEY ARE THINKING.

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Big Poetry Give Away

I will be giving way two books of poetry. One will be a Pablo Neruda (don't know whuich one yet. I love them all.) And the other will be A Longman Anthology of Poetry.

Follow this blog and others for a chance to receive a free book of poems.
For more information follow Kelli Russel Agodon's blog at

A Poem a Day for all you April Fools.

Here is a fun way to kick off National Poetry Month. These are by Kelli Russell Agodon
Her blog is


<>1. Write a really ugly poem.
2. Quickly pick out 12 words from the titles of books on a nearby bookshelf. Use them in a poem.
3. Write a poem with an invented biography for yourself.
4. Take a 1-2 page poem from a book and re-type it backwards—from the very last word in the poem all the way to the very first, keeping the lines the same lengths as they are in the book. Use this as the starting point of a poem, picking out the word formations that are particularly interesting to you.
5. Write from the number six.
6. Write to your pain: "Dear Pad of My Thumb, Will you kindly stop hurting? It is very hard for me to stir a pot or write a poem when you hurt like this..."
7. Let your pain write back to you: "Dear Liesl, if you would lay off the text messaging and playing minesweeper it would help me a lot, then you can write your poem or stir a pot..."
8. Write to your hurting country, city or community, as a variation on the theme. Take the dialogue as far as it goes, then distill the essence. See if you can arrive at a fresh insight about what ails you and yours.
9. Wow! You’ve been at this over a week straight! Let your hand draw an abstract shape. Write about it.
10. Speaking as a fortune teller, tell a fortune. The first line is: You will take a strange journey ...... Finish the prediction/forecast by describing the journey and giving instructions or advice or even warnings for the journey.
11. Write a poem of at least 40 lines that is a single sentence.
12. Take fairy tale and rewrite it from the viewpoint of another character. For example, use the wolf to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
13. Write about a family secret.
14. Write an apostrophe to some abstraction (e.g., "To the End of the World" or "To My Birth").
15. Write about someone waiting for something.
16. Write about a color without naming the color—or its kin, e.g., no fair using “crimson” “scarlet” or “ruddy” instead of red.
17. Take any object out of your bag or pocket or purse. Speaking in first person AS THE OBJECT answer the following questions (in any order): What is your favorite thing? What are you scared of? What is your secret? What is your wish for the future?
18. Take someone else's poem and select one word per line, writing them out in a list. Then write your own poem using these words in the same sequence, one per line.
19. Write 100 words (any kind of words) about your kitchen table.
20. Write a poem in which the form contradicts the content.
21. Write a piece at least 50 words long using only one-syllable words.
22. Take a common object, such as a flowerpot, boot or paperclip, and write about it as if you’ve never seen such a thing before (e.g., you’re from the future and have just excavated it, or are from another planet).
23. Take the name of a favorite poet and anagram it. Use this to begin a poem.
24. Pick a word from today’s headlines and write a definition poem for it.
25. Write the poem you cannot write.
26. What Work is For You: Write about a job you have had, whether you loathed it or loved it. Write from your own experience but go beyond the literal! Keep the poem in the present tense, and BE SURE THERE IS A PHYSICAL ACTION INVOLVED such as scrubbing floors, dissecting chickens, helping someone use the toilet. Keep your poem in couplets, tercets, quatrains, or sestets—your choice.
27. Write a poem in a received form in such a way that the form is concealed.
28. Imagine a drink or food dish that would bring you fully alive. Write the recipe.
29. Begin with, “This is not the last poem I will write…”
30. Elide the Junk: Take a piece of junk mail and black out most of the words so that what remains is a poem.

Monday, March 28, 2011

who is this battle axe English teacher and what makes HER such an authority?

After I posted my first blog yesterday it occurred to me that I didn’t provide any introduction. Who am I, and what makes me think I know anything about writing? I have more degrees than a thermometer, one of which is a MFA in Creative nonfiction, and I have been writing since the days when families had black and white TVs. Most of what I write is terrible, but some of it has been published. I have had poems, stories and essays published in anthologies and journals, most notably Mischief, Caprice and Other Poetic Devices, Women’s Words and The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Two of my novels Under The Veil, and Parallel Lines are available at and Both Under the Veil and Parallel Lines are available on kindle and Nook. As we approach April, National Poetry Month, my blog will focus largely on poetry. If you want to WRITE poetry you must READ poetry. Here are some Places to read poems This particular Random prompts: And here's another: This last one is an an online workshop that my friend Elizabeth and I have done several times, and made some lifelong poetry friends among my classmates: Diane is a great teacher. Blue Light Press On-line Poetry Workshop Each week you will receive an inspiring seed idea designed to trigger the creation of a poem, share ideas about the process of writing poetry, workshop one of your poems, and receive feedback from the workshop group. Then, at the end of the week, I will give you a detailed response to your poem – with praise for the places where your poem is lovely and powerful, along with suggestions for revision where the poem has not reached its full potential. My goal is to give you a deeper understanding of poetry, a deeper love of language, and a stronger mastery of the techniques which make a modern poem work. I love being a catalyst to help you take the next step in your writing. The workshop begins with an introduction called "Writing Poetry - A Life-Affirming Approach." This introduction covers artistic and spiritual ideas about how to write a poem, gives you inspiring quotes from famous poets and writers, and gives you ten practical ideas about how to write poetry that expresses who you are as a human soul. Along with this, you will get an E-mail about a gentle way to workshop poems, a template to offer feedback to other workshop members, and a seed idea to inspire the first poem. The E-workshop includes two E-mails per week - one with the seed idea for the week, and a second to respond in detail to your poem. You will also receive feedback from the members of your workshop group. The cost of the workshop is sliding scale: $150 to $200 for the eight-week session. For more information or any questions, send an E-mail to Diane Frank's website:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bury the dead phrases

Dead and Padded Phrases


What do these phrases even mean??? They sound like they are effective, but ultimately the words are wordy and empty.

Be that as it may…
That being said…
More or less …
In the last analysis …
In terms of …
The fact of the matter I, or The truth of the matter is….
Just say what you mean.

If you are writing in first person, your personal opinion is implied. There is no need to state it.

"Personally, I believe in UFOs."
Just say "I believe in UFOs."

Instead of:
Personally, I think he’s a jerk.
Just say
"I think he’s a jerk." Or "He’s a jerk."

"As for me I prefer carrots."
Just say "I prefer carrots."

Instead of "In my opinion, he should go skating."
Just say,
"He should go skating."
or "I think he should go skating."

Avoid boring and gratuitous adjectives.

Very, really, totally, truly..these adjectives don’t add anything, so don’t use them

He was really very cute
Just say
He was cute.
OR if you want to use more specific detail:

He was a tall, lean mass of muscles, and his face could grace on the cover of People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People issue.