Tightening the Belt on Your Prose, Pt.5 ~
Changing your passive narrative voice to an active voice means understanding what you’ve done (and should be doing) with your verbs.
Any form of the verb “to be” is considered passive.
Many gerunds (-ing words) are also passive (depending on whether they’re paired with a form of the verb “to be” or not).
Adverbs using “ly” are also indicative of passive tendencies.
Forms of the verb to be:
is am are were be was has had (etc.)
The idea is relatively straight forward: identify where you’re using these words, circle them and then flip them around…
Mary was stopped by the police. (passive)
The police stopped Mary. (active)
Dawn was jogging. (passive)
Dawn jogged. (active)
Randy is a lawyer. (passive)
Randy practices law. (active)
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of every single instance of passive voice in your prose – not at all.
We’ve been (look! I just did it again – the passive voice!) looking at ways of tightening your prose with the purpose of clarify your intent. Passive phrasing slows down the pace of your writing by adding unnecessary words. So if you’re writing an action or suspense scene I would suggest you carefully analyze your phrasing carefully – not just for the length of the sentence but how you’re choosing to word it… is it active or passive?
Using the passive voice is not a sin – no matter how many English teachers (and I am one by the way) or hardened independent editors (which I’m not – hardened that is) tell you that this is the case. What separates clear writing from clouded writing are the decisions we choose to make in crafting our stories during the editing phase. Don’t use the passive voice “by accident” – be aware of your decisions and consider whether you would be improving the flow of your prose specific to your intent by making it active instead.
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