Avoiding Passive

Submissions Tips, Part III

 

We hear it all the time. Don’t write in passive voice. But nobody ever really explains what passive voice is, or even how to avoid it.

The problem is, a lot of people talk in passive, which makes it more difficult to notice it when we’re writing. But there are some very simple ways to avoid passive voice, and with practice, it gets much easier to spot it at a distance and cut it before it reaches the page (or after, if you’re in the editing phase).

 

From the technical standpoint, these are the words you’ll want to avoid:

  1. Was
  2. Were
  3. Are
  4. Am
  5. Have Been
  6. Is
  7. Being

Of course, there’s no way to completely avoid them, and they don’t always equate to passive, but the point is to cut as many of them as possible.

See, passive gets a little old and repetitive after a while. Everything starts to sound the same, and that’s when we lose readers. We’re all trying to avoid that. Readers should want to read your work, and not be put off by your word choices.

 

Here are a few examples of editing out the passive:

Passive: I was tired.

Active: My eyes had bags, my shoulders slumped, and my hair looked like a tangle of pillow head.

 

Passive: We have been friends for years.

Active: I knew Frida from second grade, and we stayed friends long enough that we hardly remembered how it all started.

 

Notice how editing out the passive tends to make your work longer and more descriptive? That’s the whole point. We want our work to have flair and flavor, to show a picture instead of an idea. Our readers should be able to see everything we’re putting before them, and passive is the exact opposite of that.

However, I’ll be the first to tell you that not all passive voice needs to leave. See, passive is really easy to read, and sometimes it’s important to give out a few easy-reading sentences so our readers don’t have to constantly work to understand our story. It’s a balance game, finding the sweet spot between passive and active (and honestly, I haven’t figured out the best ratio yet either, after writing twelve books).

Play around with it, mix your passives and your actives, until you come up with something that you enjoy, because that’s the key to writing.

 

If even you, the writer, don’t like it, then your readers won’t like it either.

 

Rani Divine
Editor, Mavguard Magazine