I self-published my first book ten years ago. Earlier this fall my first story appeared in a book anthology published by Guideposts. Last weekend I submitted my first manuscript to two agents and one editor - publication pending!
My wife and I like to sneak out for dinner dates about once a week. Tonight we enjoyed an early-bird dinner in a packed restaurant. I quipped about such a large crowd eating a heavy meal the night before Thanksgiving. Who am I to talk though since I had a crock of French Onion soup and a wonderful rare sesame-crusted tuna steak. My wife chided me to put away my Droid which I constantly check as I anticipate the cherished email from the agents/editors to send the full manuscript.
Instead we talked about writing. I shared with her the common ailments of writers. We write differently than we speak and think. As I edited my final manuscript, I removed hundreds of passive voice sentences. At work we compose thousands of Powerpoint slides for customer presentations. Even engineers write and later edit out those pesky passives. Even worse, our style guide requires us to remove all noun modifiers. Microsoft spell and grammar check sure becomes handy over thousands of pages.
Novice writers also write with a tendency towards the imperative case. The word "must" shows up a lot along with too many exclamation points. My wife's coupon blogger friend re-wrote an entire article because of this. The frugal homemaker and her husband saved a bundle by paying for their house in cash. The way she wrote the article caused quite the negative stir among her faithful readers. She sounded arrogant. Why? Because she didn't tell the story. Instead she wrote the process and the facts. It sounded cold-hearted and proud to the readers who know this kind, compassionate Christian woman. They felt guilty for not doing what their coupon guru did. So they let her know it. She quickly learned to show her story instead of tell it.
She told her readers about how she and her husband lived frugally in a trailer for six months. Meanwhile, they haggled with every contractor and DIY salesperson for the best price. Her husband, a lawyer, drove a beat-up old car even though he could afford a Mercedes. By all appearances, they lived at poverty level for eight years on a six-figure income in order to ultimately pull off what they did. It was not magic. It was hard work. When she told the story by showing these details, her readers understood the real "how-to". They felt much better. They forgave her.
I removed so much of the imperative from my manuscript. I did not want to though. Its message is urgent. But if I think about it, the message I wrote is thousands of years old. Its urgency is no lesser or greater today than when God said, "You must be saved." (Wow - a passive voice and imperative all in one little sentence.) Nevertheless, the style that sell books is the style that shows a good story. Funny then that the Bible is still the best-selling book of all time. It is full of passive voice, imperatives, run-on sentences, tons of semi-colons, and other items that would not pass the Chicago Manual of Style. I'm sure God knew what He was doing though. I hope the inspiration He gave me for "Christian Mythology" will also powerfully guide readers to the Truth of Jesus Christ.