Thursday, June 11, 2009

Passive Voice - How to bore your reader or NOT last lesson

Today is the last lesson for passive voice. Ready?

Now that I drilled active versus passive voice into your head, there are times when it is appropriate to use passive voice or forms of “to be.”

“When is it okay to use passive voice?”

Passive voice is how we speak so using passive voice in dialog is appropriate. (The fact that we speak in passive voice explains why we make the mistake of writing our fiction the same way.)

Use forms of “to be” to create vivid descriptions of your subjects.

Example: Jane was a tall, leggy woman with long, blonde hair.

Use the forms of “to be” to express ongoing action.

Example: Dick was already running late when he locked his keys in his car.

Example: Jane is moving to Seattle to work for Starbucks.

Now that you know the difference between passive (bad) and active (good) voice, how do you fix your story?

Many grammar check programs have settings that you select to encourage you to eliminate the passive voice sentences. Find that setting, turn it on, and watch how many sentences it underlines in green. (Microsoft Word underlines the bad grammar with a green line.)

How do I know this?

“Uh hem.” Yup, that is me waving my hands again. I write romantic suspense and the last thing I want to do is throw my reader out of the story because I wrote a “telling,” non-active sentence.

Can you just picture it?

Bad: Charley was being chased through the forest by a knife-wielding lunatic.
Good: A knife-wielding lunatic chased Charley through the forest.

If you do not have a grammar checker then go through your written work and highlight all the "to be" verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been), then try to eliminate between one half and two thirds of your passive voice.

Converting passive voice sentences to active voice sentences is fairly easy. When you find a passive voice sentence the object will be at the beginning of the sentence instead of the end. Find the subject (who or what is doing the action) and put that word first. Find the object (what the subject is doing) and put that at the end.

Example: Dick was bitten by the dog.
Example: The dog bit Dick.

Another good way to cut down on passive voice is to combine sentences, or revise them to convey your original thought in a new, more powerful, active way.

In conclusion, remember this: passive voice “tells” the story, while active voice “shows” the story to your reader. If you can commit this to memory, you are on your way to writing good fiction and future published author.

Worked for me!

Final Exercise:

1. The poem was read aloud by Margaret.
2. The Yankees were beaten by the Tigers in the playoffs.
3. Her personal computer was given to Edith by her parents.
4. The turnoff for Route 287 was finally reached by Carla.
5. Many letters have been sent by me to your office.
6. The streets around the fire had been blocked off by the police.
7. The truth was suddenly realized by the contestants.
8. The computers were shipped by the Tucson branch on Monday.
9. Projects were judged by the teachers.
10. A brialliant performance was given by the choir.
11. Adam and JoAnne were married by the priest.
12. The test was taken by Amanda last week.
13. The truck was broken by little Tommy while he played.
14. The National Enquirer was sued by a famous actor for publishing a scandalous photo.
15. The movie was seen by the class before the exam.


Loretta June 11, 2009 at 10:08 AM  


I just read through your information on passive voice. I took notes and have them tucked away.

This was excellent! Thank you for sharing this:)

Loretta Wheeler

Denise June 11, 2009 at 7:25 PM  

Thanks, Loretta.

I sure wish I had known this stuff sooner in my writing career. Now that I know, I will never forget!


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