ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Thirty

Updated on January 19, 2015

Welcome Back

Another full mailbag awaits you today, and today we have some new questions never asked before. I was excited when I received them, and I’m excited to answer them now.

Keep sending me the questions and I’ll keep this series going. You learn, I learn, and we all come out of it better writers.

That, my friends, is a win-win-win situation.

Let’s get started with a question from Brad, one of the regulars here at the Writer’s Mailbag.

Welcome to the Mailbag
Welcome to the Mailbag | Source

Diagramming Active and Passive

From Brad: “Can you diagram the syntax for those two sentences to see where I lost it.”

This whole discussion began with a lesson on active voice vs passive voice. After the lesson, Brad wrote back with a couple examples of his own, and asked me if he got it right. Here’s what he wrote:

“So, just to see if I correctly understand the examples you gave here on passive, and active voice.

passive

I was walking through the forest, and to my amazement I.....

active

The forest was all around as I walked toward the west.

The active approach seems awkward for me.”

As it turns out, he got it backwards. His first example is active and the second passive. In active voice, the subject comes before the verb and the object comes after the verb. In passive voice, the subject comes after the verb.

In Brad’s first example, “I was walking through the forest”…..the subject, I, is before the verb, and the object, the forest, is after the verb. This is an example of active voice. In his second example, the object, the forest, comes before the verb followed by the subject, I.

Sorry but I can’t diagram using Word, or if I can I don’t know how to do it.

How a character says something may be more important than what they say
How a character says something may be more important than what they say | Source

The Character of a Character

From Catherine: “How can a writer use dialogue to show his character's character?”

This is such a great question, Catherine, and one I haven’t heard before. Let me give you a few examples of how dialogue can give us insight into the character of a character.

If we want to show the amount of respect a character shows others we might do it this way.

“Would you please bring me a glass of water,” is a sentence spoken by a respectful and courteous person.

“Bring me a glass of water,” is not a request but a demand, and to me it comes from a rude person.

Now how about showing the mood of a person? A character who is afraid or nervous might speak in short sentences or sentence fragments. They might stutter a bit. A calm person is more apt to speak in complete sentences.

We can also paint a person as shy or outgoing. Let’s say we have two store clerks. A customer approaches one and asks where the tissue is located. “Aisle 2,” the clerk says. Another clerk, a more outgoing clerk, might answer the same question this way: “Oh, those are on Aisle 2. Let me show you where they are.”

I hope those examples give you a better idea of what we can do with dialogue.

Ebooks and Editing

From Linda: “In the meantime--just wondering about E-books. Are they self-published or do they go through the same process as books produced at a brick-and-mortar publishing house? If there is no editorial process, then that is even one more (and I believe more significant) reason to dislike E-books.”

Well, Linda, it’s an interesting question and one I’m sure others are wondering. Contrary to popular opinion, ebooks are not always self-published. Many publishing contracts with major publishing firms include ebook rights. In other words, the publishing company will publish the book not only in hard copy but also in ebook form.

However, I think it is safe to say the majority of ebooks are self-published. As for the editorial process…the editing process…that is completely up to the writer of that ebook. They can edit it themselves, in which case the book is highly suspect. They can pay someone to edit the book, in which case the book will be as good as the editor. Or they can skip editing, in which case I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Title Length

From ArtDiva: “Hi, Bill! When looking at your titles, they appear to be both a title and subtitle, longer than I knew was possible for the search bots. And wondering, whether the rules have changed and whether I should expand on some of my articles so the essence of the whole article captured to improve readership? Is this a legitimate question?”

Diva, it is a very legitimate question.

Things are changing all the time in the SEO world we live in, but at this moment, it is recommended that titles be between 50-60 characters to appease the Google gods. Mine are usually longer but that’s only because I don’t have any desire to appease those fickle ninnies.

I have seen articles that say the title can be between 60-70 characters, but the consensus seems to be sixty or under so that the entire title is shown on search engines.

Exploding Heads

From Missirupp: “Billybuc, I have a question and wasn't sure where to leave it. How do you manage many projects at once? I have three projects going plus the HubPages. I am reading or writing all day. So my basic question is, how do you balance everything you do without your mind exploding?”

Missi, the good news is that you have multiple projects you are working on, as any freelance writer should have.

How do I do it? I designate each day for a particular project. Mondays I write all my Hubs for the week. Tuesdays are for customers. Wednesday and Thursdays are for my novel-writing, and Fridays are for odds and ends.

Remember this is just my approach to the problem. It may not work for everyone. I know some writers who divide their day into segments, and each segment is devoted to a particular task. Whatever works best for you is the best approach.

Real location or fictional
Real location or fictional | Source

Location Accuracy

From Russ: “How important is the geographical accuracy of your stories? Is it better to set them in fictional towns such as the TV show "The Middle"? It is obviously in Southern Indiana, somewhere near Indiana University, Terre Haute and not too far from Indianapolis, but does not give a town name or exact location. What are the advantages to being in an actual town unless set in a big city like Boston or LA?”

Russ, this is really a very good question. I don’t know that there is an advantage or disadvantage to using actual towns vs using fictional towns. Some mighty fine books have been written in fictional towns. Some mighty fine books have been located in real cities. I prefer real cities, but of course that means I need to do some research so I don’t offend the locals that live in those cities. My current novel is located in my hometown, so you might say I took the easy way out on this one.

I guess I inadvertently answered your question. The advantage of writing about fictional towns is you don’t have to do the research. The advantage of a real town is authenticity and a feeling of “kinship and reality” for those who live there or have visited there.

And That Will Do It for This Week

It’s been a blast, but all good things must come to an end. I will see you again next Monday with more great questions. In the meantime, write like a whirling dervish, and always remember that what you do matters in this world.

2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 2 years ago from New York, New York

      Bill, I always love your advice here and you are so right about a schedule. I am trying my best to do this more and more, because I truly can't (not that I know many who could) do it all myself everyday. So, I thank you again for sharing that and more here. Happy Monday and here is to a great week ahead for all of us!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine, and Happy Monday to you. Schedules save my professional life. Without them I would be "Lost in Translation." :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Always useful. Good questions and great answers! I think I find the setting of stories one of the tricky things; too much description or not enough.

      Anyway, great to see you on this Monday afternoon in a sunny but very cold Bridgwater. Just been for a bracing walk. Bbrrrrrr!

      Have a great day!

      Ann

    • profile image

      missirupp 2 years ago

      Thank you billybuc for answe4ring my question. I'll be working on a schedule to figure out what works best. I want to see if I can move from one project to the next during the day.

      But then I read Russ's question about locations, if they should be fictional or not. Now I want to write fictional stories set in my real town of Boise. Oh my gosh, project number 4 for me? Too many great ideas.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 2 years ago from Arizona

      About editing Ebooks. I sometimes wished articles written on a variety of sites were edited. I have actually edited other's writing but never my own. We cannot trust our own words as we live with them. Even though Ebooks are cheap to produce the one expense I will include is a recommended editor.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, settings are hard for me as well, and for the exact same reason that you stated. Sigh! Will it ever become easy?

      Have a splendid week. We are drying out from three days of rain. I think winter just skipped us this year.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Missirupp, it is easier to writer about your own town. I always feel like I'm cheating when I do it, but I know that's silly. Many writers do the same thing...many successful writers. Thanks for stopping by and for asking your question.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I will too, Carol. I just think it's wrong to publish without have the book edited. I understand about the expense of editing, but it is money well-spent.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Great questions and answers Bill! I don't know if it was in one of your mailbags or something else I read, but a reader commented that she had no idea how to diagram a sentence. Do they not teach that in school anymore? I remember when I started public high school, my English teacher was amazed that I could diagram sentences (which I actually enjoyed, by the way). Shoot, we'd been diagramming sentences for years in Catholic school prior to that! Public high school was a breeze thanx to the outstanding education I received in Catholic school (3rd thru 8th grade).

      Sorry to go off on a tangent. Just saying.... :-)

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      billybc

      I guess I don't write grammatically correct English, so once again I will call it style. I don't think it would be fun to write fiction and worry about wandering into another grammatical lane.

      I liked my second example better than the first one.

      Thanks for the answer, and that is exactly what I asked of you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, I honestly don't know if they diagram anymore...it wouldn't surprise me if they don't. Some of my earliest memories of school are of diagramming sentences for the nuns, a skill, by the way, that has served me well for decades.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brad, bottom line, is the writer has to be satisfied with his work. If you liked your second example better, then that's the one that should stay. Many a writer has gone passive with great effect.

      Thanks for the question...it was a good one about a topic that many writers need to learn about.

    • mdscoggins profile image

      Michelle Scoggins 2 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Wow Bill when I pulled up the mailbag today and recognized this is the 30th segment. How fantastic. We are reading and listening for sure. I personally learn so much from week to week. Thank you for your dedication to us at HP. Have a great week.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Michelle. It means a lot to me to know others are receiving benefits from this series.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Fantastic information. I am just not a passive guy. I try but fall far short.

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 2 years ago

      I simply have to read your hubs and I get so revved up to start writing.

      Man, oh, man! If you could only bottle that stuff....what ever it is, you'd

      be an incredibly rich man!! And, I am quite serious.

      Keep it coming, Bill. One of us fledgling writers are bound to make it to the big time, sooner or later.

      Have you ever see the Kevin Kline movie, "In and Out" where the former

      student becomes an actor and wins an Academy Award. He gives credit to his high school English Literature teacher for instilling in him a love

      for the arts. If you have never seen it, it is a must see and a laugh a minute.

      Great advice from a great guy!

      Thanks, Bill.

      DJ.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      No, Eric, you are not a passive guy for sure. :) Just one more reason why I like you. Thanks, buddy!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      DJ, I'm loving every minute of my interaction with all of you. I have received much more from my friends here than I have given, so I'm constantly playing catch up, but I'm loving every minute of it.

      Thank you my friend.

      bill

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, judging from the way you outline your week, you are truly exceptional to get it done! Blessed to know you and learn from you.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      You are one organized person to segment your week that way!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Dora. I feel blessed to know you as well, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Happy Monday, Flourish, and thank you. It's in my upbringing. I was raised this way and it's working so far. :)

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Using dialogue to define a character is a real challenge. I appreciated your examples. I've used it, very judicially. And, have gotten varying responses from readers. Thanks for another good mailbag! ;-)

    • profile image

      ArtDiva 2 years ago

      Hi, Bill! Thanks for answering my question. I knew about the two title lengths mentioned, but with so many variables I thought maybe the rules changed again, and you would know. Think I'll keep it at 50-60, but know it can go longer. It probably isn't so much the length that the google bots respond to, and who really knows that for sure. Have a good day!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Bill, for sharing your experience with us. It helps when we all share our thoughts on writing.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Diva, your last statement is probably the truest...who really knows? Thanks for the question.

    • Sandra Eastman profile image

      Sandra Joy Eastman 2 years ago from Robbinsdale MN

      I loved the comment about the diagram. Wow does that show our age. I don't think anyone under 50 would have a clue what is meant by it. I have a real issue with editing as my current book was completely edited a couple of times and then the current publisher decided to divide it into 4 books. You'd think that editing a third time wouldn't be needed but two reviews later I am still finding minor issues such as "an" instead of "and". I sometimes wonder just how many eyes are really needed for a error free book. I worked with a publisher in Oregon once and had my pieces in six of his books and to my amazement there wasn't one mistake. When discussing such with him he said their house is noted for expert housekeeping. Pity they only do Christian books. Thanks for the good tips.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Another good lesson from you. I always learn something when I read your advice. Keep 'em coming...

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad to hear that, Ruby. Thank you for always being here.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sandra, every single time I read a book by a famous author, I find editing errors. I am beginning to think it makes no difference how many times I edit, which does not fill me with good vibes. :) Thank you for stopping by, my friend, and Happy Monday to you.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      All very solid and excellent advice. Yes, I did notice the active and the passive, as well as a slice of good customer care, chucked in later on in the dialogue. In Love and Light.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Manatita...that active and passive voice problem will get us all from time to time. All we really can do is be aware of it and guard against it. Peace to you, my friend.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Bill, I do envy your organizational skills, I multitask but never seem to get very much done. The days just seems to fly away from me, I know that I need more structure, and with the help of my diary I can prioritise, but time is still the enemy. Looks like you've found the right balance. Another useful Q&A session.

      I can't believe you've already clocked up 30 mailbags, keep it up, you're doing an incredible job my friend. My best to you.

    • Molly Layton profile image

      Molly Layton 2 years ago from Alberta

      These questions are wonderful. I'm sorry if you've answered this before, but how do you build up an audience in general?

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Jo! I suspect you are in the majority concerning multitasking and the need for structure. I've heard similar statements from quite a few writers. At least you are aware of it. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Jo! I suspect you are in the majority concerning multitasking and the need for structure. I've heard similar statements from quite a few writers. At least you are aware of it. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Molly. I'll answer your question on Monday if that's okay.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Re: Ebooks, again. It's not the platform, it's the publisher or author or both. There can be some truly awful physical books available, too, since many self publishing platforms can let publishers get their books done largely unchecked, except for whether materials provided meet tech specs.

      Happy Monday!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Great questions this week and even better answers. Congratulations on your 30th edition.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Multi-tasking done right! That is so important to get anything done in this life.

      Another mail bag full of great questions and answers, dear Bill.

      I was hoping to see you visiting on the south side of HP Town : )

      I do hope the rest of your week is wonderful.

      Peace and blessings as always

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      I think diagramming sentences was lost in the public schools along with cursive handwriting! That's too bad.

      I always learn from your Hubs. I'm trying very hard to be more organized with my time.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      True words, Heidi, but no surprise coming from you. Thank you as always.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Bill. I just thought this would be a one and done series. Who would have guessed? Certainly not me.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, the mail truck broke down, or I would have made it to the south side. :)

      Thank you my friend. Blessings to you always!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, thank you so much. I honestly don't know if diagramming is done any longer in schools. I suspect it isn't, but I have no proof of that suspicion.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Well then, first thing tomorrow after the truck is fixed, but if not, I know you have plenty of friends to give you a ride. I look forward to seeing you there. Tee hee You will be surprised at the southern hospitality shown.

      Peace and blessings

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Congratulations on Installment Thirty in your Writer's Mailbag series, Bill! I hope there are many more installments to read.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, thirty seems like an amazing milestone. Thank you for all of your wisdom and guidance. Your wisdom and guidance are immeasurable. I'm on "vacation". Will check back with you again in a week.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Bill, it's hard for me to offer interesting comments that haven't been said 100 times before, but just have to let you know I am still reading and enjoying this series of hubs and learning a lot in the process. Keep up the good work.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, leave the light on. You never know when the Mailman shows up these days....and I'm looking forward to that southern hospitality.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      So do I, Alicia. I greatly enjoy this series. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Linda, and enjoy that vacation of yours.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate that, John, and I appreciate you hanging in here. Have a great week, buddy.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      Reading, learning, and loving it! I especially related this week to the real town vs 'fake town'. I think I'm currently in my own made up town. I know it isn't authentic so to speak, but so much easier not to have to worry about the facts...to me, that's fiction.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting as always.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, it will be authentic if you make it authentic. Fiction writers blur the lines all the time between fiction and nonfiction. You are doing fine with yours so keep it up, and thank you!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      The walking example at the top had me a little confused. I think both examples are active voice. I thought active meant the subject does something and passive means something is done to the subject. I ate dinner. (The subject is I and I am doing the eating.) Dinner was eaten by me. (The subject is dinner and the thing done to the subject is eating.) I think the Naughty Grammarian is going to have to research this subject a little because I am not sure I have it right.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Catherine, it may not be a good example. That's what I get for being in a hurry. Thanks for pointing that out..now I have to do some research as well. :)

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      As usual, very good answers to very good questions.

      Another way to express the difference between active and passive voice is that in an active voice sentence the subject does something (Bill kissed Bev -- subject, active verb, object) and in a passive voice sentence something is done to the subject (Bill was kissed by Bev -- subject, passive verb, optional prepositional phrase to name who did it). My uncertain memory is that all state of being verbs are passive voice. (Active: Ze edits books. Passive: Ze is a book editor.)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Brian. I have the feeling we could teach this lesson until the cows come home, and there will still be people confused by it. Oh well, all we can do is try, right?

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Great advice Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you vkwok. Have a great weekend.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      As always, great material covered. Thanks again for the learning experience.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It's always my pleasure, Deb. Thank you!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      This was an interesting one Bill. Especially character of a character. How many times have I read a book where one of the characters was described one way, but then his dialogue was totally off character (at least in my mind).

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      That's a great point, Glimmer. Any avid reader, I'm sure, can remember such a case with a book they have read....and I always feel cheated when I encounter it.

    Click to Rate This Article