Action vs Stagnation

Epic Quest

It’s time for our second Epic Quest!

Let’s dive into our writing topic for today: Action vs Stagnation. This is sort of active vs. passive voice and it’s sort of sentence construction and sort of weak vs. strong verbs. Essentially, it’s how to avoid making your writing so boring that it will put the reader into a trance-like state.

Here’s an example:

STAGNATION: “Ishya was creeping along the corridor, keeping her eyes fixed on the floor in case of traps. She was sweating from the heat it was so hot. She knew she had to escape soon or she would roast to death.

ACTION: “Ishya crept along the corridor, her eyes fixed on the floor in case of traps. She wiped beads of sweat from her forehead and snatched at the heavy material of her shirt. She had to escape from this place before she roasted to death!”

I notice this a lot in fantasy. The tell-tale usage of ‘she was’, ‘-ing’ verbs and telling instead of showing combine to present us with a decidedly stale piece of writing. To fix this, all I did was make my voice more active by really putting the reader in Ishya’s head. I cut out the extraneous ‘was creeping’ and ‘keeping’. And instead of telling the reader that she was sweating because it was hot, I showed the reader that she was sweating and feeling constricted by her shirt and her desperation at needing to escape.

How about one in first person? Bit trickier this one…

STAGNATION: “I found myself looking him in the eyes. He watched me as I jutted out my jaw, daring him to take a step closer.”

ACTION: “I looked him in the eyes and jutted out my jaw. Take a step closer, I thought. I dare you.

It’s harder with a first person POV because everything is in the character’s voice. The main faux pa committed in the bad example above is in the second sentence: ‘He watched me’. We start reading this sentence from the other person’s side and it should really be from the POV character’s perspective to give maximum impact. It’s about having the POV character show us that she’s carrying out actions and being proactive, rather than the POV noticing other characters observing her actions.

My explanation is far from perfect, but you get the general idea. This is far easier to identify with third person viewpoints. Alright, it’s time for…


Epic Quest #2 – “Actionate Before You Stagnate”

Here’s the challenge. Take a sentence or two from a book you enjoyed (or from your own writing) which is displaying passive/stagnating writing. Something that you feel isn’t being as impactful as it could be. I want you to take that piece of writing and re-work it so that it’s active, engaging and strong.

And if you’d like to come back here and share the results with us, that would be swell!


Enjoyed this post? Why not join the discussion in the comments below? Go on, it’s sure to be epic!

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One comment

  1. Original:
    Darren uttered a strangled cry as the man suddenly grabbed his throat, choking him. He struggled for breath, trying to pull away the man’s fingers, but to no avail. After a few moments, he fainted.

    Re-worked:
    Darren’s cry was cut short as the man gripped his throat. He gasped and choked for breath, eyelids fluttering wildly, chest heaving. Fingers scrabbling desperately, he tried to tear away the man’s hands, but their grip was like iron. Blood rushed to his head, roaring in his ears. The last thing he saw was the man’s leering face, swollen so that it blotted out the rest of the world.

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