Is it, or is it not, irony?

As a figure of speech, irony adds meanings to situations, develops readers’ interest, makes literature more intriguing, and commands use of imagination to comprehend meanings. Moreover, it brings life to both drama and literature. Look to these well-known examples from Greek antiquity. Antony at Caesar’s funeral: I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. For Brutus is an honorable man; The first irony of Antony’s speech is that he is unequivocally there to praise Caesar. Antony is, in fact, lying. This is a calculated tactic to disarm a crowd firmly on the side of Brutus when Antony takes the … Read More…

A Secret of Great Literary Fiction Stories as Art

We live by stories, descriptions of people and events, real or fictional, that inform or entertain. Stories are ubiquitous as air, essential as a heartbeat, and as varied in the telling as there are humans to tell. The story as a fiction art-form in prose has evolved over the past few centuries, but recently has declined as literature, a regrettable fact emitting from failure of contemporary authors to strive for “art” in their “creative” writing. What is lost? Imagined fiction and literature as written works considered to have lasting artistic value. The loss of written story as an art form … Read More…

Career planning for aspiring, literary-fiction-story writers.

Plan #1 Want to be an author? Just do it and enjoy. That’s enough for most of us! Writing is a pleasure and we don’t have to be the best for all readers or achieve some impossible measure of success. BUT– If you want satisfaction for: a) being the best author of the best story you can write that might persist for generations, b) creating stories that speak to contemporary and future readers about the complexities of being human, then you may want to write a fiction story as an art form that engages, entertains, and enlightens, and consider these … Read More…

Improve storytelling by flexiblity in writing style.

A few literary-fiction storytellers effortless adjust to setting changes, different narrator perspectives, and point of view shifts. Most writers must work to develop changes in writing style when story scene requires improvement for reader acceptance. Her are a few skills that might be considered. I. SUCCINCTNESS A. More elaborate prose. Helen wanted commitment—meaning us married and settled in her seventeen-room, early twentieth-century house in town with tennis court and three-car garage.  She believed if we changed the furniture and decorated with art we chose together, we could be happy newlyweds.  But every time I stepped into her house, memories of … Read More…

What To Do for Writer’s Block

All literary fiction writers have problems with productivity related to ability and individual writing strategies. Writer’s block is a common term but it really doesn’t define a specific problem or suggest a consistent or dependable way to solve and proceed. The symptoms can be devastating—staring at a blank screen or page jilted by inspiration with quashed creativity. Here are famous authors’ solutions that might just squiggle your own path, for better or worse, to recovery. *Maya Angelou: “Writing is like any art or sport. Practice makes perfect. Inspiration will only come if you push yourself to keep putting pen to … Read More…

A Fiction-Writer Changes Style with Image-Words

What if the writer can, with words, create images in a reader’s mind that primarily stimulate setting and character in a fiction story. It’s a matter of choice, imagination, purpose, and style, and very individual. Using basic-story information of plot momentum, let’s augment basic story action-information with setting and characterization with authorial style changes as examples. They went to the birthday party of a man. Is it appropriate to develop setting and character in scene or narrative when the plot purpose is to simply move characters to a party? Will it inhibit or captivate a reader’s interest? Consider these examples. … Read More…

The effect of passive voice on your fiction-writing style.

If your fiction prose-stories don’t attract readers, one culprit may be nonjudicious use of the passive voice related to style and craft proficiency. To moderate style, a writer needs to know passive construction and understand both the effective and often-detrimental uses of passive.  Here’s a concise, valuable overview.

EXAMPLES: Compare the effects of these two passages:
Passive
The inscriptions on the gravestones were obscured by darkness but the marble was still cracked by Jason’s hammer-strike as a photograph was taken by a hidden camera.

Active
Darkness obscured the gravestone inscriptions but Jason cracked the marble with a hammer strike as a hidden camera took a photograph.

CONCEPT.
A common purpose of passive use is to change the focus of attention in the sentence from the subject to the object.

Active:  The whale swallowed Pinocchio.  An ACTIVE sentence emphasizes who did something (the doer).

Passive:   Pinocchio was swallowed by the whale.  In the PASSIVE, the object becomes more important than the “doer” and the “doer” of the action becomes  the subject.

Also in the passive,  the “doer” (1) may not be revealed or (2) may be revealed with the use of “by” followed by the “doer”.

Active: The intruder murdered the woman.  (The intruder is the subject “doer”; woman is the object.)

Passive: The woman was murdered.   (Object becomes the subject, the “doer” is not revealed.)

Passived: The woman was murdered by the intruder. (“Doer” is revealed at  sentence end using “by” followed by the “doer” noun.)

USE OF PASSIVE
In essence, passive is often used when the FOCUS is on:

1) what happened–focus is on the object:

Passive. I was attacked by a stranger.  Compare active:  A stranger attacked me.

2) who carried out the action.

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe was painted by Manet.

3) how the action was carried out:

The solo was played beautifully.

OR when the “DOER”:

4) is unknown.

The cathedral was built in 1245.

5) does not want to be identified

Murders were committed.

Other uses of the passive.
Promotion of indirect objects, idiomatic combinations, prepositional passives, content clauses, impersonal passive, adjectival uses, double passives…

TAKE AWAY.
Undoubtedly, most successful prose-fiction storytellers don’t need to spend too much time worrying about the details of passive tense. They default to creating by instinct. But for some literary fiction styles, unnecessary overuse of the passive may be detrimental; the passive may be weaker, wordier, and more indirect than the active which is direct and vigorous. And a passive has potential for erasing who performs the action therefore avoiding the agent’s responsibility for the action.  [Example: Crucial statistics were deleted from our files.]

Although avoidance of the passive has been advised by many teachers of writing, the passive is often the better choice for clear expression: when the actor is unimportant, unknown, or needs to be hidden; when the focus of the sentence is on what is being acted upon; to maintain point of view; or simply when it sounds better. (see Bryan A. Garner and Joseph M. Williams below).

In summary, knowledge and controlled use of the passive in literary fiction stories can improve a writer’s style with clarity and focus on verb, subject, object emphasis that improves reader engagement and understanding.

Thanks for reading.
William H. Coles

RESOURCES
-Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_passive_voice
Garner, Bryan A. (2016). Garner’s Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. pp. 676–677. ISBN 978-0-19-049148-2.
-Williams, Joseph M. (2015). Bizup, Joseph, ed. Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (5th ed.). Pearson. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-321-95330-8.

ANNOUNCING PODCAST OF SHORT STORIES READ BY THE AUTHOR’
NOW AVAILABLE AT YOUR SOURCE FOR PODCASTS.
STORY IN FICTION by William H. Coles

Books by William H. Coles

Looking for a good book of literary fiction?
TRYThe Surgeon’s Wife by William H. Coles
[and other novels and short stories: McDowell, Guardian of Deceit, The Spirit of Want, Sister Carrie, Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016]

Why Select Stories Succeed Best as Literary Fiction

Great literary fiction storytelling as an art form is not for all readers, and its success is not measured solely on volume of commercial book sales but rather the number of readers moved or enlightened by characters and story, usually about what it means to be human. Many of the literary stories that have lasted into new generations of readers have important, common characteristics; here are the principles. 1. Characterization. The fictional humans that populate successful literary fiction seem real to the reader, either in the context of the reader’s world, or the story world created by the author. It … Read More…

When to use backstory in literary fiction

In general, in fiction, backstory should only be employed to advance the front story.  For excellence, the concept is almost always required in short stories but is also useful in the broader sweep of a novel. Example 1. Scene: no backstory. Story momentum intact. The curtain parted just far enough for Maria to step forward into the spotlight and then closed.  She bowed to the audience applause and cupped one hand in the other in a gesture of formality.  She nodded to the piano player who, after a pause, started playing to guide her to the always difficult major-seventh opening … Read More…

Action and Imagery

Concepts for making your story writing better. A story in fiction, to be admired and remembered, needs, among many, these essential elements—action, conflict, and active imageic-words. In-scene storytelling is often more effective to engage and involve readers than telling-narration. The first example tells of a happening in narrative; the second, for comparison, is written in scene. Narrative Harry flew a kite at the beach to entertain his invalid son but the kite got away, and Harry seethed with anger. Many writers would think that changing from past to present tense would provide immediacy of action. Harry flies a kite at … Read More…