Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The fall tv season doesn't suck, but...

My apologies that I haven’t posted anything new here in a while, but with the Jewish holidays and some travel, I haven’t been around.

Some random thoughts:

In the last week or so, I’ve found myself reading more than a few projects that I’ve rejected because they were rife with passive voice.  And this always surprises me.  The Elements of Style very briefly explains the reasons to avoid the passive voice, and I recommend that you go read it (the whole book, actually, not just the part about passive voice), but the short answer is that I do not want to read a book that goes like this:

     Once I was a boy, and then I was a man.  As a boy, I was interested in many things that were simple, rather than complicated.  But once I was a man, I became interested in more complicated things.  Like women.  As a man, I was always confounded by women.  What was it that made them tick?  Was it the heat of summer?  Was it the cold of winter?  Was it the incessant use of the word was by so many authors?
     As I walked to school, the sun was high in the sky, birds were chirping, and Mrs. O’Brien was working as the crossing guard.  That was the day I saw Cindy McAdam for the first time.  Cindy was in my fourth-grade class.  Her hair was blonde.  Her eyes were blue.  She was often late for school, perhaps because her father was a known drunk and probably made mornings difficult in her house.  I was glad he wasn’t my father.

Had enough?  Could the use of the passive voice in one more sentence physically cause your head to explode?  Probably not.  But let’s get with the program, people!  If there is one thing I know you can do to improve your writing, it’s eliminating the passive voice.

So, if you submit something to me, and it gets rejected with a specific comment on the passive voice, you’ll know why.  I hate it.  It bores me.  I have rejected projects because the first sentence started out with “The day was hot.”  They all remind me of that movie, Throw Momma from the Train.  Billy Crystal was a writer with writer’s block.  He couldn’t get past the first line.  My favorite version?  “The night was moist.”  

So, here’s a little something to amuse you.  How many different ways could “The day was hot” be rewritten?  I challenge you.  Rewrite “The day was hot.”  Make it active, make it interesting.  No prizes but bragging rights, but those can be fun, so go for it.

Different subject:  The response to my offer to read a sample chapter plus synopsis has been going well, though I wish I’d gotten a few more.  I’d like to mention that you can donate online by credit card, then include a copy of your receipt with your package.  In fact, that’s the preferred approach, I realize, as I have to forward on those checks.  Using your credit card eliminates that step.  The link is www.activecom/donate/tntnyc/tntnycAZackTucson.

New subject:  So, I’ve continued to watch the fall tv season and have to give kudos to Grey’s Anatomy.  I like it, I must admit, with my favorite episode so far being the one where Meredith’s mom is checked into the hospital.  Who couldn’t sympathize with that situation?

E-Ring, though, is a major disappointment.  With JAG off the air, I’d hoped this would be a suitable replacement, but despite some great eye candy, no one here has quite the same appeal as Catherine Bell, nor do the stories seem as fun or action-packed as JAG’s.  This is a Jerry Bruckheimer show and I’ve liked a lot of what he’s been doing on tv, but this show falls short.

Supernatural, on the other hand, fills my jones for the old X-Files fan in me.  I’m a little worried the show will become a bit too one-note, but so far I’m liking it.  But you’re nuts if you really think Jared Padalecki doesn’t know what happened to the father.  Also, I had a problem with the Bloody Mary episode.  It seems to me that there are rules with each of these creatures and if Bloody Mary crawls out of the broken mirror, who can inside there be one to talk back to her in the mirror Padalecki holds up?  I may have to watch the episode again, but unless she’s talking to herself and the image is just her in the mirror, I don’t think this works.

Smallville continues to intrigue me, though I thought introducing the prisoners from the Phantom Zone was by far a throwaway gimmick.  In fact, the Phantom Zone was never explained.  As for which one of Clark’s friends or family are going to have to exchange his or her life for Clark’s, my money is on Chloe.  After all, she’s truly been a third wheel most of the series and they already “pretended” to kill her off once.

NCIS is off to a pretty good start, but I can’t believe they killed off Kate just to introduce this Mossad agent, Ziva.  Kate showed intelligence and had good chemistry with Tony.  So what if she didn’t appeal to the 15-25 demographic.  Isn’t that Abby’s job?  And Lauren Holly?!  What?  Are they expecting the show to encounter turbulence?

South Park has once again caught my interest.  Anyone who thinks this is a show for kids hasn’t been watching it.  The parody of Lord of the Rings had me laughing nearly to the point of tears.  And somewhere Terri Schiavo must be laughing at the battle over whether or not to let poor Kenny die.

Sorry, but no, I do not watch Desperate Housewives.  I am, though, watching both Threshold and Invasion.  Threshold, despite a strong start, has started to feel stupid to me.  Invasion, on the other hand, has started to be a bit more interesting.  Small tidbit:  William Fichtner, who plays the sheriff on the show, lives down the street from me.  Haven’t met him, but have seen him around the ‘hood several times.

I’m excited that Boondocks, the comic strip, is coming to tv, and looking forward to catching that in November.

Well, my gf, Nadene, is in town and wondering if I’ll ever stop writing this, so I’ll say goodnight.  To all those who continue to read, thanks.  And if you haven’t yet made your donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, please use the link above.  I need your support!

Z

15 comments:

Bernita said...

"The day scorched...???"
Cutting to the chase with a dictionary of antonyms and synonyms, we might use - burned, scalded, boiled, parched - or, becoming lateral, use "persecuted."
Your point being, I suppose, that it's not that bloody hard to avoid passive voice most of the time.

Demented M said...

First, Diana Peterfreund has a great discussion on passive voice at her blog.

Here's the link: http://dianapeterfreund.blogspot.com/2005/09/when-good-advice-goes-bad-part-one.html#comments

And regarding 'The sun was hot', here are my entries...

The sun burned so hot, sweat didn't even have a chance to bead on his brow. Native Arizonans called it a dry heat, but to his Yankee blood, it felt more like purgatory.

The hot sun first blinded him with its steady glare, and then sucked all the moisture from his skin until the dizziness of heat exhaustion spiraled through him.

I could go on, but I'll stop here.

M

Demented M said...

I have another one...

The hot sun etched a surreal landscape of liquid asphalt and glittering, too-thick air.Perfect weather for scrambling eggs on the hood of a car.

Okay, I have to stop now. If I end up writing a full length book of these, I am _so_ submitting it to you because it's all your fault! :)

M

merlinsmuse said...

The morning dew created a fog of steam as the sun rose and threw searing heat on the tundra below.

By the way, you can expect my submission in response to your offer to read a sample chapter. I made a donation and sent the chapter by mail on Friday. :-)

Now, I'm afraid I'm going to have to re-read the chapter and keep my fingers crossed that I avoided the passive voice. Yikes!

Have a great day, everyone
Cathy

Ric said...

tv shows - Surface, can't tell who the bad guys are, Medium just gets better and better, Commander&Chief - Donald Sutherland as a bad, bad man, which leads in to Boston Legal - just found it this season and it is hysterically funny. Invasion - but it wanders, Lost which is suffering from additional charachters.

mapletree7 said...

'The sun was hot' isn't passive. It's the past-tense of the word 'to be' with an adjective after it. 'The sun was burned out by the UFO' would be passive tense.

Andrew Zack said...

"Waves of heat rose from the asphalt that day."

"You could have fried an egg on the sidewalk that day."

"The sun burned high in the sky, leaving those of us below wondering if rain would ever come."

"Lisa wore a skimpy halter top and cut-off, low-rise jeans (commando, clearly) that day, giving testament to the heat of the day."

From simple to titillating, clearly there are better ways to communicate the information "The day was hot," and to intrigue the reader.

Anonymous said...

Yup...simple being very sentences are usually dull and lame, but they aren't passive voice. You actually cannot construct passive voice with only a being verb because passive voice requires a transitive verb...

The sun is hot. [No voice, not active voice, not passive voice...just limp being verb attempting to bore the reader into a coma.]

The sun baked the dirt into hell bricks. [Active voice.]

The earth was split into hell bricks by the baking sun. [Passive voice.]

If you cite "passive voice" as the problem when you mean boring being verb sentences, you could confuse the writer if he actually knows ANYTHING about English grammar.

Anonymous said...

but, passive can also mean taking the easy way, the simple way that doesn't require much work.

If you look at almost any sentence with was in it and try to reword it--the sentence is almost always much better for the effort.

The sun was hot. Only tells the reader that the sun was hot--not how hot or how it affects/effects the characters or the story. Wording in that manner often means other areas of the writing are weak and that you can expect to find info dumps as well because the writer didn't take the time and effort to make the spice up the words.

They took the "passive" route vs an "active" one in the story telling, where the reader gets to see the story in color vs black and white.

IMHO

Bernita said...

Very well put, anon. Frustrated and annoyed writers thank you. Too often an agent will speak of "passive voice" as in verbal when they really mean the overall passivity of the writer's Voice combined with too much "passive voice."
On the other hand, sometimes a simple "the day was hot" is to be preferred to a cliche trying too hard to be active.
I like "hell bricks."

Anonymous said...

Thank you to those who pointed out that the uses of "was" in the example quoted weren't (har!) actually *passive*. Tired, perhaps. Lazy, maybe. But not passive. If we're trying to encourage writers to act like professionals, let's try and use correct terms.

And yes, sometimes it's neater and more elegant just to use the verb "to be".

Here's a passive sentence: "Judy was told by her father not to stay out late."

Here's the active version: "Judy's father told her not to stay out late."

guillermo said...

Sweat trickles, gandering fucking spider-like long me fucking foreams,and every fucking suck of breath hurts to no effect...I'm boiling to God man

rdl said...

My you watch alot of TV. What about House, that is "my show" this season.

As the thermostat hit 100 and the sweat trickled from behind his ear and down the side of his neck,they peeled off their clothes and dove into the frigid water off the Gurnet Road.

Anonymous said...

The night was sultry...
It's too damn sultry in here!

Anonymous said...

The night was sultry...
It's too damn sultry in here!

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