<![CDATA[Rachel Tolman Terry - Blog]]>Thu, 03 Aug 2017 09:03:49 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Velma Wallis & Two Old Women]]>Wed, 02 Aug 2017 18:22:12 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/velma-wallis-two-old-women Picture
One of thirteen children, Velma Wallis was born in a remote Alaskan village near Fort Yukon, accessible only by dogsled, snowmobile, airplane, or riverboat. Her father passed away when she was just 13 years old, and she stopped going to school so she could help her mother raise the rest of her family. 

At some point in her adolescence, Velma decided to go live by herself in a small cabin in the wilderness. Her father had built the cabin, which was located about 12 miles outside her village, and he used it for hunting and trapping. 

While living at the cabin, Velma learned all kinds of skills, including fishing, hunting, and trapping. Her mother joined her for a summer and taught her more of the traditional survival skills her Gwich'in Athabascan ancestors had perfected.

​These skills, along with her experiences in the cabin, found their way into her first book, Two Old Women

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Wallis always loved stories, both in the books that she read and in the stories her mother would tell her. In fact, Two Old Women comes from a legend her mother shared. It's about two old women (75 and 80 years old) who are left behind by their tribe when they can no longer contribute to the group's welfare.

Although Wallis never finished high school (she received her GED), her brother recognized her talent and encouraged her to write Two Old Women. He also helped her to get it published, and his instincts were right. Two Old Women became the most popular book of its kind in the history of Alaska, selling more than 1.5 million copies. Sadly, Wallis' brother died of AIDS years ago, but his encouragement lives on. Wallis recently published another, different kind of story, Raising Ourselves, which confronts the alcoholism and cultural struggles faced by many residents of rural Alaska. 

In an interview in Frontiersman, Velma Wallis said, "Even though I put myself out there for a lot of criticism...I had to do it. Number one because I had to heal, I had to find a way out of this darkness that descended upon me after my brother died." Her courage has helped other Native Alaskans to deal with their own experiences as well.

Wallis believes that alcoholism is a crippling disease that has caused immense struggles for her community, and she's interested in the growing interest she sees in ancestry and the traditional lifestyle of the Gwich'in. Her writing, both in addressing current problems and highlighting the strengths of the Gwich'in cultural traditions, help both herself and others to heal and move forward.

In addition to Two Old Women and Raising Ourselves, Wallis has also written another book based on Athabaskan legend, Bird Girl and the Man who Followed the Sun.

Tolman Hall has produced a literature unit study for Two Old Women that addresses themes of independence, forgiveness, and respect for the elderly. It's appropriate for grades 5-10 and includes vocabulary lists, reading comprehension quizzes, essay prompts, and a variety of cross-subject projects.

For more information about Velma Wallis and her writing, check out the following articles:

"'Two Old Women' Author Publishes Memoir" by Eowyn LeMay Ivey
Kirkus Review of Two Old Women
"From One Young Woman to Two Old Women" by Caroline Williams

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Get your copy of Tolman Hall's Two Old Women literature study guide in paperback at Amazon or in ebook format from the following sellers:

Amazon
Smashwords
​Barnes & Noble
Kobo
Scribd



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<![CDATA[Do We Need Old-Fashioned, Book-Length Reading?]]>Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:29:58 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/do-we-need-old-fashioned-book-length-reading
It’s funny. Even for writers of books, the digital age has taken its toll on old-fashioned, book-length reading, and I really believe the toll can be significant.

With Twitter notifications, emails coming and going, and websites to update (in theory), it seems hard to settle down with a long book and slowly turn the pages. I find myself listening to e-books on my phone more often than I sit down and make my eyes scan the letters that create sentences and paragraphs and entire threads of narrative.

Listening to books has its appeal. I can listen to books while I walk the dog or fold a load of laundry or weed the garden. It’s multi-tasking at its best. Strange things happen to my brain, however. For instance, I’ve been listening to a wonderful book by Sara Tuvel Bernstein, The Seamstress, and as I think back to certain parts of the book, I simultaneously remember where I was and what I was doing when I listened to those parts. I was driving on 40th Street when I read about the American soldiers carrying Seren's 40-pound body to the hospital, and I was weeding my kitchen garden (specifically, I was pulling purslane out from around the bok choy) when I read about Seren's teacher’s wife brushing her hair on the way to the academic competition in Bucharest. Are these associations distracting my brain from making more meaningful connections?

Anyway, I’m also reading a paperback right now, Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons. I’m enjoying this book immensely as well, but I feel like it’s sinking deeper than The Seamstress, and maybe it’s because I can’t pull weeds as I read. Maybe it’s because my eyes see the letters and have to process the letters into words. Maybe it’s partially because I invest more when I focus all of my brain power on one task at a time.

It’s time to make a change. While I won’t stop listening to e-books while I fold laundry and weed the garden, I plan to always have an old-fashioned, book-length work at my fingertips because I don’t like the trend I’m seeing.

And I have evidence of the trend. See, I’ve kept a spreadsheet of everything I’ve read since 1996. Compulsive? Yes. I’ve tracked dates, titles, authors, dates published, category, rating, and page numbers. My memory is terrible, so the spreadsheet helps me to look up titles and authors when I’m recommending books to friends. It helps me to see my interests over time. And now it helps me to see that I need to step up my game. The evidence is clear. Here are total page numbers per year.

1996: 12717
1997: 11813
1998: 11127
1999: 10710
2000: 12539
2001: 10879
2002: 12195
2003: 7411
2004: 7247
2005: 7460
2006: 7517
2007: 5552
2008: 6753
2009: 8762
2010: 9531
2011: 11106
2012: 8149
2013: 9485
2014: 7368
2015: 3619
2016: 6963
2017 (first half): 5980

Yikes, 2015 was awful (it was the year I ran for school board), but you can see the downward general trend. This year is looking up, and I’m hoping to keep it that way. Life is richer when reading is a priority, and I feel that my writing is better and my reasoning is fairer and more measured when I have the thoughts of greater minds bouncing around in my head.

Does old-fashioned, book-length reading help if you stick to one genre? I think so, although I like to vary it as much as I can. For instance, here are some of the authors on my spreadsheet for the first half of 2017: Lois Lowry, Sophocles, Ayn Rand, Lisa Graff, Sarah Wilson, Ernest Hemingway, Andrea Di Robilant, Aristophanes, Anne Tyler, Patrice Kindl, Dan Brown, Shonda Rhimes, Robert Massie, David McCullough, Pearl Buck, and Khaled Hosseini. When I think of the privilege it is to read the intimate thoughts of people as interesting and thoughtful as these, I feel immense gratitude. What would life be like without reading?

They say you’re more likely to achieve a goal when you write it down, so here’s my goal: 12,000 pages by the end of 2017. Hold me to it.
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<![CDATA[Learning Scrivener]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 14:47:12 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/learning-scrivenerI've seen posts and reviews about Scrivener for years. People said things like, "This software has changed the way I write!" And I would think to myself, "That's great! But I've been using Word for a long, long time. I know how to use it. It drives me crazy sometimes, but I don't want to spend time learning new software when that time could be spent writing."

Nonetheless, I tried a free Scrivener trial recently. It looks and feels different. It's a little slow on my computer, but so is RootsMagic. I've been approaching Scrivener hesitantly, dipping my toe in to see if it's too cold or too hot or just right. 

I think I like it.

I like the way you can write in chunks and then move those chunks around. I like the unassuming courier font that is unconcerned with formatting during the draft phase. I like having my research files available right there on the screen where I'm writing so I don't have to come up with some complicated file system on Google Docs or somewhere else.

Scrivener has a learning curve, and I'm still very much in learning mode. I'm using it as I write a non-fiction book, but I'm thinking it will be even savvier for fiction. 

For the time being, I'm continuing to write my content marketing stuff in Google Docs. It's easier to share the files and folders with clients, and the shareable comments are gold for this type of work. But for book-length work, I think I'll continue learning Scrivener. 

Who out there is using Scrivener? And what are you using it for?
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<![CDATA[´╗┐Lessons in Description from Hemingway's A Moveable Feast]]>Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:00:47 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/lessons-in-description-from-hemingways-a-moveable-feast
I'm not sure why it took me so long to finish reading Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Maybe it's because there's no real plot, or maybe it's because Hemingway himself doesn't seem to get too excited about anything. But even though it moves along like a lazy river, it's fascinating for readers and writers. And here's why.

Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley lived in Paris in the 1920s with their young son Bumby. They were poor, but their lives were as rich as any artist or writer could hope for. They regularly spent time with some of the best known writers of the 20th century, and Hemingway's observations of them are mesmerizing. Using descriptions of people in the book (below), see how Hemingway uses metaphors, sounds, imagery, and creative adjectives to paint pictures of his friends.

On Gertrude Stein:
"Miss Stein was very big but not tall and was heavily built like a peasant woman. She had beautiful eyes and a strong German-Jewish face that also could have been Friulano and she reminded me of a northern Italian peasant woman with her clothes, her mobile face and her lovely, thick, alive immigrant hair which she wore put up in the same way she had probably worn it in college."

​"In the three or four years that we were good friends I cannot remember Gertrude Stein ever speaking well of any writer who had not written favorably about her work or done something to advance her career except for Ronald Firbank and, later, Scott Fitzgerald."
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Gertrude Stein
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Sylvia Beach
On Sylvia Beach (owner of the rental library of Shakespeare & Company:
​"Sylvia had a lively, sharply sculpted face, brown eyes that were as alive as a small animal's and as gay as a young girl's, and wavy brown hair that was brushed back from her fine forehead and cut thick below her ears and at the line of the collar of the brown velvet jacket she wore. She had pretty legs and she was kind, cheerful and interested, and loved to make jokes and gossip. No one that I ever knew was nicer to me."

On Ford Madox Ford:

​"It was Ford Madox Ford, as he called himself then, and he was breathing heavily through a heavy, stained mustache and holding himself as upright as an ambulatory, well clothed, up-ended hogshead
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Ford Madox Ford
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Ezra Pound
On Ezra Pound:
"Ezra was kinder and more Christian about people than I was. His own writing, when he would hit it right, was so perfect, and he was so sincere in his mistakes and so enamored of his errors, and so kind to people that I always thought of him as a sort of saint. He was also irascible but so perhaps have been many saints."

On Ernest Walsh:
Ernest Walsh was dark, intense, faultlessly Irish, poetic and clearly marked for death as a character is marked for death in a motion picture. He was talking to Ezra and I talked with the girls who asked me if I had read Mr. Walsh's poems. I had not and one of them brought out a green-covered copy of Harriet Monroe's Poetry, A Magazine of Verse and showed me poems by Walsh in it."
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Ernest Walsh
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Scott Fitzgerald
On Scott Fitzgerald:
Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful unmarked nose. This should not have added up to a pretty face, but that came from the coloring, the very fair hair and the mouth. The mouth worried you until you knew him and then it worried you more."

On Dunc Chaplin (baseball player):
"I had not followed Princeton baseball and had never heard of Dunc Chaplin but he was extraordinarily nice, unworried, relaxed and friendly and I much preferred him to Scott."
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Dunc Chaplin
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Zelda Fitzgerald
On Zelda Fitzgerald:
Zelda had hawk's eyes and a thin mouth and deep-south manners and accent. Watching her face you could see her mind leave the table and go to the night's party and return with her eyes blank as a cat's and then pleased, and the pleasure would show along the thin line of her lips and then be gone."
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Ernest, Hadley, and Bumby Hemingway
On Hadley and Bumby:
"She was smiling, the sun on her lovely face tanned by the snow and sun, beautifully built, her hair red gold in the sun, grown out all winter awkwardly and beautifully, and Mr. Bumby standing with her, blond and chunky and with winter cheeks looking like a good Vorarlberg boy."
As you can see, Hemingway's powers of observation are immense. He wrote A Moveable Feast in the late 50s, just before his tragic death. That means there were 30-40 years between these actual experiences and when he turned them into a book. You would never guess from the vividness of the descriptions that the encounters hadn't happened five minutes ago.

Did he keep a journal or notes of all of these encounters and then go back and use them later? Did his imagination play on them for years until the people became caricatures of their real selves?

It doesn't really matter. Reading such descriptions make you see the world differently and respect words for their inherent power. Thanks, Hem (as his friends would say).
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<![CDATA[Writing in the Age of Distraction]]>Wed, 08 Mar 2017 16:26:26 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/writing-in-the-age-of-distraction
I’m writing this blog post directly into Google Docs, which means I’m connected to the Internet. Which means that with a pop of my index finger, I can access pretty much anything under the sun: the news in Australia, the latest episode of Poldark, almost any song ever written (on Spotify), shopping with 2-day shipping (Amazon Prime), and information about what my cousin ate for breakfast (Facebook).

This is no way to write. Writing requires focus. It requires a direct connection between the logical thoughts in your head and the transference of those thoughts into a physical form that can be read by someone at a future time, even if that future time is in about 14 seconds. It’s magical if you think about it. I think about something in my mind, my brain tells my fingers what to type, I upload the finished product to my blog, and you, my friend, read it. I don’t know where (or when) you are, but we probably have a lot in common. But the only way we’re going to communicate, is if I avoid distractions.

Here’s the thing: we all have important things to communicate, and we have the means for communicating them. But because we’re using the internet for writing, we get so distracted that our writing isn’t as good as it could be. Instead of doing the hard work of revising, we scan our favorite food blogs. Instead of creating a real editorial schedule and sticking to it, we observe the political fights of our relatives on Facebook--and maybe throw a comment in here or there.

What can we do to produce quality writing in the age of distraction?

As you can tell from the very real and detailed examples I’ve included in the kinds of distractions out there, this is a problem for me. But I’m working on it.

The following are some strategies I have used or am currently using to continue to produce articles, blog posts, ebooks, and books in the age of distraction:

Use Your Distractions as Motivation
Have you ever tried this? After I write 500 words, I can read the news for 15 minutes. After I finish the long chapter that’s causing me problems, I’ll watch an episode of Boys Over Flowers (I take full responsibility for your addiction if I’m the reason you start watching Korean TV dramas). Using your distractions as motivation (okay, bribes) can be helpful to your productivity if you can be disciplined enough to abide by your own rules.

Use Paper for Outlining
Outlining requires real concentration for me, and for some reason I concentrate better with paper in front of me. Once I have a solid outline, it’s easier to sit down and pound out the flesh. But the bones--well, they need me to step away from the distractions completely.

For fiction, I like to get a big piece of paper and draw out the arc of the plot with a line. I write details about the plot along the line, showing where the peaks and valleys should occur. This is really hard to do on a computer, but it’s downright invigorating on paper. Give it a try sometime, and let me know how it goes.

Find a Writing Buddy
Making a commitment to someone else is often more powerful than making a commitment to yourself (as sad as that is). If you have a writing friend, consider helping each other to set and reach goals. Here’s an example:
Rachel: Okay, Joann, I’m going to finish 2,500 words of this story by Friday. What are you going to do?

Joann: I’m going to finish Chapter 9 and find a good image for the cover by Friday.

Rachel: Good idea. If you finish all that, I’ll make you my famous gluten-free brownies.

Joann: Okay. If you don’t finish your 2,500 words, I’ll put pop-its under your toilet seat.

That would be pretty effective. You can see how some people work better with food bribes and others work better from threats of bathroom terrorism. Finding your motivation is key. ;)

Keep a Writing Log
Nurses write down everything they do for their patients. Teachers create lesson plans and enter grades. Police officers write reports of how many speeding tickets they write. They can look back at the end of their workday and see what they accomplished. Writers can do this too!

Consider keeping a log of what you’ve accomplished. It can help you to see how much you’re really doing and motivate you to do more (and leave your distractions pining for your attention all alone on Twitter).
Here’s an example:

March 7, 2017
Ghostwrote blog post: 646 words
Worked on cover art for Six Flights: 25 minutes
Created Canva image for website: 20 minutes
Wrote copy for Tolman Hall guide: 415 words

Hey! I actually did something with that 3 hours!

If you keep your log handy, it can be the motivation you need to keep you away from the news or whatever else ails you.

What are your best strategies for writing in the age of distraction? Please share. I need all the help I can get.
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<![CDATA[5 Reasons You Should Write a Book]]>Sun, 12 Feb 2017 00:53:02 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/5-reasons-you-should-write-a-book
There are probably a million reasons to write a book. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin to stop the injustice of slavery. Stephenie Meyer wrote Twilight to capture a dream she had one night. Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People to help people overcome their fear of public speaking. Behind every book in every library is an author who had a reason for investing a lot of time and energy into that project. 

If you've ever considered writing a book, you have reasons of your own, and they're probably very good reasons. The following 5 reasons are universal, I believe. Do they apply to you? Are you ready to take the plunge?
 
1. You Have Something to Say 
Admit it. You know a lot about something—so much that other people ask you advice about it and care what you have to say. It might be something relatively obscure like growing lucious peaches or drawing still lifes. Or it might be something more common like setting up small business accounting systems or teaching kids how to swim. Whatever it is, there are people out there who would like to learn what you already know. And they just might pay you to explain it to them.
 
2. You’d Like to Publish Something 
There’s never been a better time to get into publishing. Just a few years ago, you couldn’t publish a book without going through a series of gatekeepers: agents, editors, publishers. Today, thanks to some amazing innovations and print-on-demand technology, you can publish a book by yourself and market it to practically the whole world. The indie publishing process is incredibly satisfying, and holding your published book in your hand is pretty satisfying, too.
 
3. You Want to Learn Something New 
If you’re into lifelong learning, indie publishing is definitely for you. Not only will you continually be learning about writing, thinking, and communicating, but you’ll learn all kinds of fascinating skills along the way. You’ll learn about design as you work through your book covers and interior setup. You’ll learn how to use complicated software like Gimp or Photoshop. You’ll learn about inbound marketing and social media. You’ll meet interesting people and step out of your comfort zone. With each new book you publish you’ll learn something new. It’s endlessly rewarding.
 
4. You Want to Give Back 
Most authors started out as dedicated readers. At some point, after devouring book after delicious book, most readers have a desire to give back and add to the conversation. One of my favorite college professors told me that reading and writing are just different parts of the same conversation. If you’re ready to reciprocate start writing. Your voice is important to the great conversation of ideas and stories.
 
5. You Want to Stretch Yourself 
Anyone can write a blog post. Take 400-600 words, add an image or two, and bam. Published. But writing a book is different. It requires you to take one idea and explore it in depth. For a long time. It requires you to pace yourself, to discipline yourself, and to stick with something until it’s done. You’ll get sick of it. It will nag you and be a permanent resident on your to-do list. When you finally finish that sucker, though, you will feel the elation that comes from accomplishing something difficult. You will have climbed a very tall mountain. And from the top of that mountain you will see things you couldn’t see before. And it will make you want to climb the next mountain.
 
So what are you going to write about? Tell me!
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<![CDATA[7 Ways to Use Analytics to Improve Your Book Marketing]]>Fri, 10 Feb 2017 19:24:41 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/7-ways-to-use-analytics-to-improve-your-book-marketing
If you feel that marketing your book is a hit-and-miss proposition, you're not alone. Many authors spend time blogging and guest blogging, working on their websites, and even paying for Google Ads without ever knowing if their marketing efforts are leading to increased book sales.

That's why Analytics were created. Web analytics make it possible for you to evaluate what's working and what's not. With Google Analytics you can learn a lot about your website visitors: when they visit, what they visit, how long they stay, and more. Neat, huh?

If you're not currently using analytics, you're missing out on opportunities to get more traffic and improve conversion rates (sell more books). Here's a list of 7 tips to help you get the most out of Google Analytics.

Check Your Analytics Daily
Your daily to-do list is already long, but this one is easy. Set up Google Analytics to receive a daily email report. Your report will show you which pages received the most traffic during this day. You can then use this information to post your most-visited posts on social media and gain even more traffic.

Stop Visitors from Leaving
Your analytics reports will tell you which pages have high page views and which ones have high bounce rates. A high bounce rate tells you that readers don't have a clear path to take after they read your content. Keep their attention by providing a feature with related content or a relevant Call to Action.

Get Rid of the Low Performers
On a regular basis, maybe monthly or quarterly, evaluate which pages are receiving the fewest visitors. Delete these pages or blog posts since they're not contributing to your digital marketing and could be cluttering your website.

Analyze Your Referrals
Another important bit of information from Google Analytics is the list of websites that have sent you the most traffic. Analyze each referral and what their writers are sharing on social media. This can help you to know where to focus your digital marketing efforts. It can also clue you in regarding which accounts to follow on social media.

Look at Long-Range Trends
If you're checking your analytics daily but you never look at longer term reports, you can lose sight of your overall goals and make hasty decisions. Therefore, once a month, record your data on a spreadsheet so you can easily see how your analytics change from month to month. 

Test and Learn
Your website is good, right? But it can always be improved. Test your website by experimenting with your website, testing it, and then analyzing the results with Google Analytics. Focus on one area at a time, and keep experimenting until you find a formula that gets you the results you need.

Create an Alert to Detect Error Pages
​Those 404 Error pages are really annoying. Don't annoy visitors to your website. Instead, set up an alert in Google Analytics to monitor your site for error pages and email you whenever there's a problem.

If you're like me, this marketing stuff can be a bit bewildering. I've found, however, that the more I learn about it, the more I enjoy the "business side" of indie publishing. It's great to be able to learn about all sides of running a business, and it can be very enjoyable to have a numbers-based aspect to writing.
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<![CDATA[Activate Your Fiction]]>Thu, 09 Feb 2017 20:13:17 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/activate-your-fiction
Tom's limp body was dragged around the barn to the pasture where the cows were standing.

Why, you wonder, does the author take so long in getting Tom's limp body from here to there?  Does she dread the cow pasture?  Should I?  Will the rest of the story take as long as this first sentence?

Passive voice can slow your fiction down to a dreary standstill.  And that's why it's so important to recognize the passive voice and kill it before it kills your story.  In the above sentence, the action has been stamped out by a "was" and a "were."  The verbs, though dormant, exist in this sentence: "drag" and “stand."  But the author hasn't allowed them to take the action.  We would find ourselves much more involved with the action if we read,

The girl dragged Tom's limp body around the barn to the pasture where the cows stood.

Not only is the action closer to the beginning of the sentence but the author has also been forced to insert a dragger, the girl.  The immediacy of the action draws us in and makes us wonder what will happen next.
In the active voice, a doer exists to execute the action.  In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon.  Or, worse yet, the subject disappears from the scene altogether, as the girl in the above example.  Because of fiction’s character-driven nature, the subjects need to be as active as possible.  So don’t relegate them to victim material, and please don’t leave them out.

Downfalls of the Passive VoicePassive voice makes for wordy writing.  Extra, meaningless words can swamp your writing.  We get into the trap of writing in the passive voice for several reasons. 

First, writing with active verbs takes more forethought.  Our language provides plenty of gutsy, strong verbs, but our brains usually first think of the same sentence constructs we use day after day.  Reading exciting prose on a regular basis can help bring these strong verbs to the forefront of your vocabulary.  Instead of writing, “She was walking briskly to the hut,” you’ll say, “She raced to the hut.”  As you watch a squirrel scamper across the park bench, a van swerve to a screeching halt, a speck of dust descend to its final resting place, think of multiple active verbs that could describe the action.  Practice thinking in verbs.

Secondly, most of us habitually speak in the passive voice, so it takes some practiced discrimination even to recognize those tiny, sneaky “be” verbs. When trying to adopt a “natural” voice in our writing, we tend to write exactly as we would speak.  But all those extra, insignificant words that dissolve into the phone line as we converse with friends turn ugly when they show up in black and white.  Just as readers don’t want to read all of the “ums,” “ers,” and “ya knows,” they don’t want to read “be” verb after “be verb.”

Get Rid of the Passive
The easiest way to identify the passive voice in your writing is to sit down with a pen—preferably a red pen if you’re serious about gutting your writing--and circle all the forms of the verb “be” (be, am, is, are, was, were, being, and been).  These “be” verbs lack vigor because they convey no action.  This exercise opens your eyes to the “be” addict within.

Once you have circled all those wimpy “be” verbs, examine a sentence:

A decision was reached by the committee.

Who prompts the action in this sentence?  The committee.  Bump the committee up to the beginning:

The committee reached a decision.

You’ve knocked out two superfluous words and given the committee some real power.

When you begin ridding your writing of passive verbs, you’ll find that unruly prepositional phrases fall by the wayside as well.  Read the following sentence, a prepositional wasteland: 

The costumes for the school play were designed on Friday by the students from Mrs. Jacob’s fourth period art class.

This sentence never ends.  The author has added so many prepositional phrases that we the readers lose sight of the sentence’s direction and meaning.  Try,

On Friday, Mrs. Jacob’s fourth period art class designed the costumes for the school play. 

Not only has the sentence lost five unnecessary words, we get the details about the subjects and the time period (Friday) up at the front of the sentence.  We’re not so weary by the time we find out the purpose of the action.

As you make your way through another red-lined sentence, and another, and through a paragraph, you’ll find that sometimes a “be” ought to be.  The forms of “be” work well when you want to link a subject to a noun that clearly renames it or to an adjective that describes it.  Trying to meddle with a “be” verb with one of these functions might just alter the meaning of your sentence or add an action when one truly doesn’t exist.
For example,

Advertising is legalized lying.

Any attempt at getting rid of the “is” in this sentence makes for a wordy, confusing statement.  So don’t be too rigid about eliminating every single “be” verb in sight, but do examine your motives in using the verbs you choose.  A conscious decision to use a “be” verb may be just what you need.  Just don’t use them ignorantly.

This “be”-verb elimination process seems tedious, and it truly is the first time you try it, but you’ll begin to notice patterns in your own writing and ways to fix those passive patterns.  Soon, you can avoid the red pen therapy because you begin writing more actively in your rough drafts.  You’ll think in terms of verbs instead of nouns, and your writing will gain intensity and verve.

It takes work and lots of red ink, but abolishing the passive voice can only bring rewards.  Good luck, and, hey, maybe I’ll see you sometime at the office supply store in the red pen aisle.
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<![CDATA[Discussing Literature at Home]]>Thu, 09 Feb 2017 17:50:52 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/discussing-literature-at-home
How do you get your child to discuss literature with you in a way that leads to discovery? Sometimes, homeschool parents feel that their discussions end up feeling like a reading comprehension check, and that's no fun for anyone. Instead of making sure your child remembers that Onion John has five bathtubs in his house, spend your discussion time on the bigger questions:

What does this tell us about the character?

What do you mean by that?

Why do you think that?

Tell me more about that.

Can you elaborate?

Do you agree with the author's point of view?

Tell me how you arrived at that conclusion.

Can you say that in another way?


Questions like these do more than check for comprehension. They get your student thinking about the ideas, themes, and concepts that hold the story together. They also help you to use literature to launch into the Big Ideas that humans have pondered since the beginning of time, ideas like Truth, Justice, Forgiveness, Life and Death, Love, Fear, and Hope. What a blessing it is to have discussions like these with your children.

Like anything else, you'll get better at this the more you do it. It might feel a little awkward or contrived at first, but it won't for long. Start with just a few questions like the ones above, and then add more as you feel comfortable. If your kids ask you what you're doing, tell them it's the Socratic Method. Impressive!

​Here are more posts about Homeschooling Literature:
14 Books for Adventure-Loving Boys
9 Hopeful Children's Books About the Great Depression
Using Tolman Hall FollowUps
The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

And here are some blog posts about the Socratic method:
The Classical Scholar writes about How to Ask (Better Homeschool Questions) Like Socrates
Catholic Mom discusses a Socrates Cafe
Homeschooling Hearts & Minds talks about using the Socratic method when Teaching the Classics
Eclectic Homeschooling blogs about The Power of Questions
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<![CDATA[Follow Up for Traci Osborn's 10 Not So Snoozing Monsters]]>Tue, 01 Nov 2016 07:00:00 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/follow-up-for-traci-osborns-10-not-so-snoozing-monsters
Great bedtime stories like Traci Osborn's 10 Not So Snoozing Monsters are a lifesaver when it's time to settle down and call it a night. But have you ever thought of pulling those bedtime stories out during the day for a little interaction?

When your child just can't get enough of a bedtime story ("One more time! Please!"), that's your cue to do something a little more with it.

To that end, we've created a Tolman Hall Follow-up for 10 Not So Snoozing Monsters. Print the pdf and let your kids draw their own monsters, imagine what monsters might dream about while they're sleeping, and more.

And don't forget to visit Traci Osborn's site. She's an fantastic illustrator. You'll love getting to know her better.
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