Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The passive voice - by zombies

I’ve written about the passive voice before. Here’s a recap for you:

A writer is said to be using passive voice when the subject of the sentence is who it happens to, rather than who dun it. Very occasionally this may be a good way to build up tension in the story, but as a general rule, it slows the story down and lifts the reader out of the action. Therefore it’s best to avoid using it.

The door was opened by the hero as he entered the room.
Seriously, that’s a pretty boring sentence. It’s passive.
The hero opened the door and entered the room.
That’s better.

Better still would be actions showing us how the hero entered the room. Most people open the door first. Did he kick it down? Slam it open? Peek around the corner first to see if the heroine was inside? Any of those would not only be active voice, but much more interesting to read.
Also they show us what happens instead of telling us, which is what the author should be aiming for.

The hero opened the door. He was angry.
Yes, so what.
The hero kicked the door open and raced into the room, fists clenched.
Ah, now we’re with him, wanting to read on.

And now, here’s a neat trick to find out if you’re using the passive voice or not. Rebecca Johnson (no, I don’t know who she is, but she’s amazing!) tweeted that if you can add “by zombies” after the verb, it’s passive voice.

The door was opened… by zombies. Passive voice.
The hero kicked the door open by zombies. No, by zombies doesn’t work, so it’s active.
Thank you, Rebecca!

Helen Woodall
Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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