Passive voice. It’s proving to be a ball and chain for writers new to the fiction game. In fact, it remains a problem for some of the more ‘experienced’ authors, too. I should know – I was one of them.
So, what exactly does passive voice and active voice mean?
Basically, writing in ‘passive’ voice not only sounds awkward, it means more words are needed to make your sentence. Active’ voice, on the other hand is clear and will keep your writing tight.
But how can I tell the difference between the two?
When writing in active voice, the subject is doing the action to the object (and no rude comments please – Nigel). For example:
“Tracey made the bed” is active. Tracy (subject) made (doing the action) the bed (object).
“The bed was made by Tracy” is passive. The bed now becomes the subject and the focus of the sentence, but it isn’t doing anything. It has now become the recipient as it’s being made by Tracy. The whole sentence is reversed.
Another example, and one I love, is:
“The door was kicked in by the officers.” This is passive writing. We have our subject (the door) not doing anything but being on the receiving end of the officers boot. Wouldn’t it sound better if it was worded, “The officers kicked in the door”? – Subject (officers) doing the action (kicked) to the object (door).
Get a post stick note and write SUBJECT is DOING THE ACTION to the OBJECT. Now pin it to your computer
So is passive writing a big ‘no-no’?
‘Hell No!’….if you are a politicians or news reader and don’t want relay certain information to their public, either because you don’t know it or you are just secretive.
But, as we are talking fiction writing, my answer would have to be a ‘Hell Yes!’ It is a sure way and agent or publisher can tell if you are a novice writer or not.
But how do I know if I am writing passively?
Well, look at your sentence. First, is your subject doing the action? Have you mentioned the object?
Another indication that you are writing passively is your choice of words. Was, were, are, is, am, being, been all denote passive writing. Also, how many words do you have ending in ‘ing’? Too many I bet.
‘Water was poured into the jar.’ – ‘Jessie poured water into jar.’
‘The bone was being eaten by the dog.’ – ‘The dog ate the bone.’
I was a classic passive novelist when I first started writing. I had a friend point it out to me and voila. Now I’m an active girl. If you stick to SUBJECT – DOING ACTION – OBJECT, and watch your verbs, you’ll be fine.
So, are you a passive writer or an active writer? Did you even notice you were writing in passive voice? Do you have any other tips for new writers? Let me know your thoughts….you know I like to chat.