Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing Rules - Active vs Passive

Writing in an active voice produces clear, smooth, easy reading. Knowing the difference between the two voices provides the knowledge needed to create active writing.

What is Active Voice? The Active Voice emphasizes WHO is doing what.

What is Passive Voice? The Passive Voice highlights what is being done.

Active Voice Sentence Format: {who} {action} {subject acted upon}
Passive Voice Sentence Format: {subject acted upon} {action} {who}

Active Example: Charles threw the ball.
Passive Example: The ball was thrown by Charles.

Notice the tightness of the active voice compared to the passive. Fewer words are needed, equaling a quicker read. The most obvious indicators of the passive voice are the “to be” verbs: is, are, was, and were. But the appearance of these words doesn’t always mean the sentence is passive.

Active: The tiger is charging toward him. (Although this is an active sentence, the ‘is’ gives an indicator for improvement.
Better: The tiger charged him. (Fewer words, quicker read)

Passive: She was beautiful, but wasn’t aware of it. She was walking at a slow pace.
Active: Unaware of her beauty, she walked at a slow pace.
Better: Unaware of her beauty, she shuffled along the cracked sidewalk. (By using a stronger verb, you supply a quicker read and a better image for the reader.)

Passive: The ball was thrown to John. Tyler was able to intercept it.
Active: Tyler jumped in front of John and intercepted the ball.

This is not to say ‘to be’ words should be completely exterminated. They have their purpose in creative writing. While they shouldn’t be overused, they can provide variety to your text. Overtime, you will know when it’s time to follow the rules, and when to break it.


Terry W. Ervin II said...

Active and passive can be tricky, with passive sneaking in too much. But for me I can get that taken care of in the 2nd draft.

Never hurts to be reminded either!

Cher Green said...

Terry, Thanks for the comment. I usually take care of mine on the 2nd draft also, but there's always a few straglers. Thank goodness for critique partners.

Susanne Drazic said...

Great post. Thanks for the examples.

Cher Green said...

Susanne, Glad you liked it and hope the examples help. Best wishes.

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