Guest Post #2

Author: Andrea Published: over 5 years ago
Tags: writing, craft, fiction crimes, passive voice, Andrea Grigg Category: Writing tips

Fiction Crimes Part 7: Passive Writing

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome guest blogger Andrea Grigg. With two published novels under her belt, Andrea certainly knows how to put that special zing into your words. Today she adds to our fiction crimes series with a post on how to avoid passive writing.

I taught English to primary school students for years. I knew about sentence structure, spelling and grammar, imagery and figurative language. But it wasn’t until I’d finished the first draft of my first novel that I found out there was a whole lot more to writing fiction. Learning how to avoid passive writing was just one of them!

I’ve used the term passive writing in a broad sense here to include both passive voice and writing where the action could be heightened.

Passive vs Active Voice

If a sentence is written in the active voice, the subject of the sentence is doing something. In the passive voice, the subject is being acted upon. Well then, I hear you ask – what does this pesky passive voice look like so I can fix it? If you’re a visual learner like me then it’s much easier to explain by using some examples.

Example 1 Passive: The entrance was guarded by the soldier. Active: The soldier guarded the entrance.

In this example, the active voice is much more direct in telling us what the soldier is doing. It’s also less cumbersome and puts the focus on the soldier rather than the entrance.

Example 2 Passive: A novel was written. Active: Felicity wrote a novel.

In the passive illustration, the subject of the sentence (the author) doesn’t appear, but is implied. The novel didn’t do anything.

Let me make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with using passive voice in technical, scientific or other non-fiction writing platforms. But if you want your story to engage your readers or a potential editor, you’ll need to use an active rather than passive voice.

Ramping Up the Action

Wrangling that passive voice into submission is only part of the problem. Synonyms for the word ‘passive’ include: unresisting, unassertive, compliant, subdued, docile … docile?!?The last thing we want is to have our writing described in those terms, right? If you want your work to pop and sizzle, try making the action more visual.

Example 3: Less active: The little girl was sad. More active: Tears trickled down the little girl’s face.

It’s much easier for the reader to be involved and form an image when you change the feeling into an action.

Example 4: Less active: Jack was waiting for the bus to come, feeling more and more anxious. More active: Jack’s leg bounced up and down in an uneven rhythm. That bus had better be on time!

Notice how I’ve shown the emotion with an action. Always better to ‘show not tell’.

The effect of active writing is even more evident in a longer passage:

Example 5: Less active: The new driveway was being concreted by Tim and a team of men while Nola looked on. She wondered if they needed a cold drink. Then who should come scampering across the lawn but Holly the dog. Holly had dived into the fresh cement before Nola could warn Tim. Nola couldn’t help cringing about what he was going to say.

More active: Nola watched her husband Tim and a team of men concreting the new driveway. Did they need a cold drink? Just then, Holly the dog scampered across the lawn. Nola leapt to her feet to warn Tim just as Holly dived into the fresh cement. Nola cringed. What would he say?

I hope you’ve found my post helpful. Good luck with your writing!

Andrea Grigg lives with her husband on Queensland’s Gold Coast, where they have raised their three adult children – two daughters and a son. Andrea loves words, finding out what makes people tick, and writing contemporary romance. Her first novel, A Simple Mistake was published in 2012. Her second, Too Pretty, was released in August 2014.

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