1. Brindy
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    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

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    What works best

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Brindy, Jun 28, 2016.

    I have had feedback from one of my beta readers and one of the phrases I am really struggling to decide on is

    The two of them crept silently towards a shaft of light, keeping their hungry bellies close to the floor to make themselves as small as possible.

    My beta has suggested that I need to insert the 'appear' instead of 'make themselves'

    I want the characters, (two dogs), to physically be as small as possible and there is no-one else in the room. Which sounds better. It's a children's novel for ages around 9-11
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I definitely prefer "make themselves". I suspect that your beta is going with literal meaning ("they can't make themselves smaller, they can just look that way!") but literal meaning has only so much value.

    Edited to expand: "Appear" has a calm, systematic, strategic feel about it. "Make themselves" has a sense of striving and of make-believe and possibly fear. It has much more emotion. It is IMO much better. If we were talking about James Bond instead of dogs in a children's book, we'd go with "appear".
     
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  3. BC Barry
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    BC Barry Member

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    I like what ChickenFreak (and I love that name) said. If you're talking people and adults, appear would work better. But to a dog's mind, they really are making themselves smaller. And if the writing is from a dog's POV, then that's what you want. Just like sticking their heads under the sofa makes them invisible.
     
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  4. Brindy
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    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

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    Thank you, that is exactly what I hoped to hear, as they are in a dangerous situation and don't want to be discovered. I really need to trust my instincts on these things, but I do like that my beta readers makes me re-consider things I have written.
     
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  5. Viridian
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    Viridian Contributing Member Supporter

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    Yep, definitely make themselves is much better
     
  6. Laurin Kelly
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    Laurin Kelly Active Member

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    Agreed with the others. "Appear" puts more emphasis on the observer, "make themselves" keeps the action on the dogs themselves.
     
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  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    How does the sentence read in the context of the sentences around it? While I prefer "make themselves," within context, the other phrase might read better. Just something to consider.
     
  8. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd go a step further, replacing the passive verbs. For instance 'keeping' replaced with 'dragging.'' I'd also find a more succinct substitute for 'crept' so you can get rid of the adverb.

    The two inched along the floor, growling bellies dragging, small steps, small thoughts, intent on the shaft of light.

    I have no idea if that's appropriate for a kids' book, but that's how I'd write it.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see any passive verbs in the sample?
     
  10. Brindy
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    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

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    Ooh, that sounds quite sinister. Unfortunately, it's the wrong tone for these characters, who are pampered cuties who find themselves in a dismal place. I don't use many adverbs, so I'm happy to keep this one. The whole novel is kept from being too dark, although it deals with a pretty unpleasant period of history.
     
  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    'keeping' and 'make'
     
  12. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess that's why I don't write children's literature. ;)
     
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  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Those aren't passive. Can you clarify?
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I return to offer some examples of active and passive:

    Active: I'm throwing the ball.
    Passive: The ball is being thrown by me.
    Active: I'm keeping the ball in my car.
    Passive: The ball is being kept in my car.
    Active: I'm going to make cookies.
    Active: I'm making cookies.
    Passive: The cookies are being made by me.
    Active: I'm making myself small.
    Passive: My body is being made small by me.
     
  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Perhaps not in the strictest grammatical sense, but they certainly don't describe (or even imply) movement or action.

    Respectively, they imply staying/remaining/not moving and indirect action.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But there's nothing wrong with that. All the fuss about passive verbs/passive voice is about the grammatical construct. "Passive" isn't a description of the action being described, but the structure of the sentence describing it.
     
  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes "passive" is used to refer to the verbs themselves - I don't like it, but people do use it that way. It's similar, I think, to what people mean when they talk about "strong" and "weak" verbs.

    Total nonsense, as far as I'm concerned, but @Sack-a-Doo! didn't create the nonsense.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, OK. So I should go be annoyed at some original source somewhere. :)

    (edited to edit, and then edited to un-edit.)
     
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  19. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Just to clarify...

    If a verb doesn't conjure an action-ful (now there's a word) image in my mind, I regard it as passive whether it fits the dictionary definition or not. And like it or not, it's one of those things editors, publishers, agents and all those other unimportant people take rather seriously. Since the game I'm playing is to get these people to put money in my pocket, I'll happily prostitute myself to their weird and wayward word whims.
     
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  20. Sack-a-Doo!
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    I checked back through all my previous posts and didn't find any comments in which I said there was.
    Um... yeah. We agree on this. (Tell me again why are we arguing?)
    Well, to an extent. I'm beginning to suspect you're either an English major or else you remember a lot more terminology from English class than I do. Maybe what we're arguing here is semantics. I call a verb passive when it doesn't nail the action hard enough to conjure an image in my mind. That may not be the right term, but a lot of people seem to use it. Or perhaps I've misunderstood them?

    Is there another term for wishy-washy verbs, those that could be replaced with more succinct verbs that don't need adverbial help to do their jobs? Weak and strong? Wishy-washy and succinct? If it turns out that 'passive' just isn't the right way to describe such verbs, I'll gladly do my best to stop using that term. I can guarantee, though, that I will stumble from time to time.
     
  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I really don't think editors, publishers and agents take "active verbs" seriously at all, at least not a as a group. Do you have reason to be so sure they do?

    (I'm not saying industry people don't want vivid, evocative writing. I just don't think they expect a single verb to do all the heavy lifting.)
     
  22. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    The passive voice has nothing to do with the verb being used. It's a grammatical construct.

    Somehow somebody borrowed the word "passive" to refer to verbs that don't seem vivid enough for them, so now there's confusion whenever someone uses the word "passive" in reference to action. It's probably locking the barn door after the horse has run away, but shifting to a different word would probably be a good idea. (Assuming you need to refer to the concept at all, which I'm really not convinced you do! :))
     
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  23. Brindy
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    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

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    Interesting discussion. For someone like me, who doesn't know all the technical terms, the rights and wrongs, but knows what sounds right or doesn't, what conjures up an image or doesn't, I don't get too concerned if I am technically correct or not. I take notice of those that do know better and then decide whether I need to change anything.

    In this instance, I'm happy with the tone and image. I have them creeping, which indicates movement and then apply a manner in which they are moving to add the the overall image.
     
  24. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, most writing advice I've read says it's the way to go. And please don't now ask me to cite them all. I'd have to send you to the 803.11 section of the library. ;)
    Maybe not every single time, but 99% of the time. Again, I'm going by writing advice I've read. And having read this in so many sources, I'd have to ask if all these people are purposefully steering me wrong.
     
  25. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm beginning to think my background as a screenwriter comes into this. Whether I've got the terms right or not, using one succinct word in place of a verbose passage (even if that passage is just a verb and an adverb) just seems like the right thing to do. Obviously I can't stand up to your arguments on all this @ChickenFreak and @BayView, but I know when I write this way, if feels right and I like the way the prose flow.

    See? That's not much of an argument at all. ;)
     

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