It’s time for Post #5 of No Edit / No Read (Passive Voice).

Writing in a passive voice is something I often struggle with in my fiction writing. This could be because of my extensive writing experience in the realm of business. I don’t know. But I find myself constantly rethinking sentences and actively reworking to ensure I am using an active voice for storytelling.

How can we identify a passive voice in fiction writing?

First let me start by saying that writing in a passive voice is not always wrong.  There are times when a passive voice serves a purpose, such in mystery writing when the subject of the action is unknown.

For Example:  The curtains were parted. – OR – The picture was stolen.

These two sentences are very obviously missing the “who” in the doing of these things, because they are unknown.

But in writing interesting and compelling fiction (that are not mysteries and the “who” is known) we should strive to keep an active voice: Someone (the subject) is doing something (the target).

For Example:  I washed the clothes today.

In a passive voice, something (the target) becomes the subject and is being done by someone.

Today, the clothes were to be washed by me.

Passive voice takes away the impact of a sentence when the target of the action becomes the subject.

Active:  Susan fired the gun.

Passive: The gun was fired by Susan.

Any time the subject is not taking direct action is a clue that you have written a passive sentence.

Active: Michael answered the phone.

Passive: The phone was answered by Michael.

As I stated earlier: Passive sentences aren’t necessary wrong, it is simply that they are not always the best way to convey what you are trying to say clearly and concisely. They can come off as vague in the long run. It can become easy to leave off important information that would provide important details – such as the actual subject performing the action. The previous examples can be written without mentioning the subject performing the action.

The gun was fired.

The phone was answered.

If you pay attention will notice news reporters or politicians making passive statements. This could happen for the purpose of misleading an audience, such as the following:

Health care will be reduced. By Whom?

Shots were fired.  By whom?

Sometimes these types of passive statements can be very effective in grabbing the audience’s attention.  We want to know more –who, what, when, where! But to keep the action rolling in fiction we will lean toward keeping the active voice front and center.

Hope this is some help! Until next time – keep things lively!


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