Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Passive Voice - How to bore your reader or NOT continued

Passive Voice lesson continued.

Yesterday we learned that passive voice lends itself to "telling." Telling is an absolute no-no when it comes to writing fiction. Why? Because it does not draw your readers into the story. Instead, it keeps them on the outside looking in.

How do we then take care of that nasty passive voice?

So glad you asked! The answer is Active Voice.

What is active voice?

Active voice defined: Active voice results from the use of action verbs like run, jump, hit, love, move, crash, remove, throw, etc. Active voice is lively and engages the reader.
A reader will be able to envision action verbs.

Let’s see some examples.

Active: The door hit Jane in the face.
Passive: Jane was hit in the face by the door.
Passive: Jane was hit in the face.

Do you see the difference? First, there are fewer words used in the active sentence. This is important when your editor tells you to cut 8000 words from your manuscript and you don't know where. Second, in the passive voice, Jane looks likes a dunce because she is sitting there waiting (passively) for the door to hit her. Third, in the active voice, the door (actively) goes and hits Jane. Slam!

In the second passive voice example, what is missing? Who or what hit Jane in the face? As a reader, I kind of want to know that, otherwise, I will think she ran into a stiff wind or dead air.

One other hint that indicates the use of passive voice is the word “by” in a sentence. See the next examples.

Some more examples:

Active: Jane blocked Dick’s view of the lock with her body.
Passive: Dick’s view of the lock was blocked.
Passive: Dick’s view of the lock was blocked by Jane’s body.

Active: Dick kissed the nape of her neck.
Passive: Dick was kissing the nape of her neck.
Passive: Her nape was being kissed by Dick.

Now, let's see if you can take those passive voice sentences you write yesterday and turn them into active voice sentences. Let's see if you can engage your reader instead of keeping them on the outside of the fish bowl looking in.

Your exercise: Take those 5 sentences you wrote and post them along with the active voice example of the same sentence.

I'll get you started.

Passive:
Kim was invited to a party by Raymond.
The Vikings were beaten by the Redskins in the playoffs.
My books were stolen by someone yesterday.
The pizza was eaten by the girls.
Allison was stunned by the actions of her classmates.

Active:
Raymond invited Kim to a party.
The Redskins beat the Vikings in the playoffs.
Someone stole my books yesterday.
The girls ate the pizza.
The actions of her classmates stunned Allison.

Look forward to your examples.

7 comments:

Flavio Q Crunk June 10, 2009 at 5:33 PM  

I also notice, when weeding out passive voice, to look for "was"s.

Denise June 10, 2009 at 7:09 PM  

That's exactly right.

There are places where using passive voice is acceptable (will get into that in another post), but in general an editor will look for "was"s.

Denise

Ceri Hebert June 10, 2009 at 9:08 PM  

I learned that lesson the hard way!

Anyway, here are my sentences....


Passive/Active

1P)A storm was building out there.
1A)A storm built out there

2P)This particular thunderstorm was grinding slowly across the land straight for them.
2A)This particular storm ground slowly across the land straight for them.

3P)He was almost to the Forever fence line when he saw them
3A)????

4P)He saw Marisol was clutching her side
4A)He saw Marisol clutch her side.


5P)Jaycie was attempting to help her
5A)Jaycie attempted to help her

Honestly I couldn't think of another way to write #3.

Denise June 10, 2009 at 9:21 PM  

Ceri,

That's because #3 is a sentence that you can get away with using was.

There are times it's appropriate. To be discussed in tomorrow's post. :-)

Denise

Ceri Hebert June 10, 2009 at 9:25 PM  

I probably could restructure the whole thing, but I agree, there are some that seem fine.

Look forward to tomorrow's lesson.

Nick June 12, 2009 at 3:47 PM  

"Dick was kissing the nape of her neck." is an example not of passive voice but of progressive aspect. See How to defend yourself from bad advice about writing.

Denise June 12, 2009 at 4:11 PM  

Thanks for sharing that information.

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