Friday, 27 June 2014

Psycho Bites: Inside the Reader's Mind Part 3

This is the last in the series, and is especially important for action writers or anyone writing a book that uses verbs... Adjectives may spice up the scene, but verbs are how readers live the story. If you’re not convinced, then please read on.


You know how walking further takes longer? Ok, stupid question, but what’s interesting is picturing longer distances also takes more time. Similarly, if you ask someone to picture walking across the room, they will take longer if you ask them to also picturing carrying a heavy rucksack than an empty one. This is despite the fact that a person would compensate for the weight, and control conditions find participants to take the same amount of time.

This may seem like obvious observations, but think about it a little longer.

Our brains are amazing. Performing an action and watching an action being performed causes similar brain activation in the motor cortex. This means when we see someone figure skating, our brains simulate figure skating so that we understand the intentions and can (try to) replicate the actions. If they falter, we only know it if it violates our expectations, because we tend to simulate the intentions over exact replications. When your protagonist punches the wall, your readers will simulate and understand the pain, because they know it would hurt if they performed that action.

Verbs act in a similar fashion. Reading jump causes similar brain activation as actually jumping. Essentially, they live through the verbs. This helps us picture what’s going on as well as empathising and assessing the realism.

It’s why action novels feel thrilling. It’s why active voice is so much more powerful than passive. And it’s why you should choose verbs carefully.

Writing is so much more than picturing words on a page; it allows readers to live through the characters and experience the verbs you use, the actions you describe, and allows them to have experiences they would have never known possible.

Cheers for reading!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Passive Tense is Being Discussed

See what I did with the title? Passive is where the thing receiving an action is made the subject. They can always be rewritten as active sentences, where the subject is the thing that is acting.

For example:
The dog was bitten by the man.

This is passive. Research has shown that many readers miss the intending meaning and instead think that the dog bit the man. However, for whatever reason the biting occurred (hunger or revenge come to mind), the dog was an innocent bystander in this particular sentence. Here’s the active version:

The man bit the dog.

Notice how it’s shorter, direct, and therefore more powerful. Such a small tweak can be very powerful, especially if it’s plagued your writing without you even knowing it.

Key phrases such as ‘was being’ or ‘had’ are good indicators. Look for them in your writing and see if an active version can be used instead. You’ll most likely use passive by accident. It tends to creep into our everyday speech, and can make things sounds a bit more formal. If you’re unsure, just think about who is being ‘bitten’ in the sentence, if you were to change the verb.

But there’s no need to entirely boycott the passive tense. It has its uses. It can be understood by humans!

The most salient reason for using passive tense is to centre the sentence on the important character. Instead of focusing on the hungry man, we focus on the dog. This is particularly important if the dog is the main protagonist, or if we are currently following the dog’s actions, rather than the man’s.

For someone who has never considered whether they use passive or active tense, it’s a powerful tool. Learn it, learn how to manipulate it, and never again let it use you.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Graduating with a First!

I’ve never felt more adrenaline surging through me than when I checked my final exam results. After three years studying BSc Psychology at the University of Birmingham, I was tempted to leave it a few days before checking the verdict. I’m so glad I didn’t, because I manage to get exactly what I wanted. I achieved a first!!


Now that the degree is out of the way, I have a bit of free time. I’ll spend some of it focusing on my clients whom I freelance edit for, some time will be spent chilling without feeling guilty, and the rest will be dedicated to this blog.

So far, the response to these little articles has been very positive. Thank you to everyone who has posted or contacted me with advice or praise – just knowing someone out there is finding me helpful is very motivating. I hope to continue helping first time writers and learning more myself.

Speaking of which, one aspiring author which I have been editing for is almost about the release their first novel. More on that very soon...

But for now, I just want to say one thing: I’m back!