Five-Minute Writing Tip # 4: Laugh at Your Mistakes
DOUGLASS-ISMS: I Still Wonder; Do You?
For years, I taught high school English and painfully listened to my students butcher the English language. But after all the years I’ve been married to Don Douglass, I still sometimes wonder if his quirky misuse of words and phrases are really intended to get my goat.
Here are a few of my favorites:
I want to condemn (commend) you for your behavior.
It’s scolding (scalding) hot.
He’s a weasling (weasel or weakling).
His effort was unfruitable (fruitless or useless).
They had to do an autopsy (biopsy) on his prostate.
They ostracated (ostracized) me from the sailing club.
My inclanation (initiation) to the world of sailing changed my life.
It’s a resort with full inimities (amenities).
We all have a fixiation (fixation) with something.
Sexual minorities will be the next engendered (endangered) species.
I’ll correlate (collate) the pages.
The trouble began when they did away with capital (corporal) punishment in schools.
Do you have a catharsis (thesaurus) handy?
Let me vacuum, I love to gravel (grovel) around on the floor.
She suscumbed (succumbed) to her Marine.
This is the restaurant where you were indicted (inducted).
I had an epitome (epiphany).
Would you like me to bring you your special arabatic (aromatic) tea?
The combustibles (comestibles/consumables) have to be kept where they’re handy.
Sometimes my choice of words gives Réanne acoplexy (apoplexy).
Bill went for a congenital (conjugal) visit. (Although this last one might be technically correct, I doubt he meant it that way.)
Wouldn’t you like to smell bread baking, listen to a melodic symphony, taste a juicy watermelon, watch an action film, or feel the wind in your face while sailing on a summer afternoon, rather than having someone tell you about it?
When we read, we experience these sensations vicariously. A good writer makes readers smell, hear, taste, see, and feel what’s going on. Using the active voice is one of the easiest and most effective writing tools to accomplish this. In a nutshell: the active voice is when the character is in action; the passive voice describes the character receiving the action. Here are three ways of changing passive voice to active voice:
Have the character perform the action.
The 10K race was run by Katie in record time. (passive)
Katie ran the 10K race in record time. (active)
Four socks, two dishtowels, and a washcloth were removed from the Labrador’s stomach. (passive)
The veterinarian extracted four socks, two dishtowels, and a washcloth from the Labrador’s stomach. (active)
Avoid using not.
Connor did not feel that listening to his economics professor was worthwhile. (passive)
Connor felt that listening to his economics professor was a waste of time. (active)
The economics professor did not like Connor’s attitude. (passive)
The economics professor thought Connor’s attitude was disrespectful. (active)
Make your writing titillating, rather than tedious.
We were knocked over when the wave hit the boat. We became drenched when the hatch opened and water came in. I was sent flying and hit the edge of the radio shelf. My head ached and I could feel blood dripping down my neck. (passive)
“A wave washed over the boat, knocking us abeam. Water cascaded through the hatch over Don, over me. The impact sent me face first into the edge of the radio shelf. My forehead stung, and I felt blood dripping down my neck.” (active)
(From Réanne Hemingway-Douglass’s (our publisher) bestselling book, Cape Horn: One Man’s Dream, One Woman’s Nightmare.