Have you ever read a book, a paragraph, or even a sentence that you thought was far too wordy for its own good? The truth is, there are a lot of culprits when it comes to poor writing, but one of the more common ones is their overuse of passive voice. Passive voice is far less engaging, after all, than active, and no amount of excuses is going to change that.
Below are two versions of a sentence:
- A cake should have been made.
- I should have made a cake.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the second one is more engaging, but in some cases, it also takes fewer words to write in active voice. Here’s a couple more sentences:
- The car was stolen by Robert, using a fake key.
- Robert stole the car with a fake key.
As you can see, the second sentence takes two less words and five less syllables. This can go a long way when it comes to making your fiction flow better in the eyes of your readers. Something I’ve noticed is that there are two major culprits when it comes to passive voice: helping verbs and prepositions. Neither of those are bad to use, but pay attention to what you’re doing when you do. If your prose sounds better without them, don’t use them. And remember, the best way to tell if it sounds good is to read your work aloud.
Also remember that passive voice takes your reader away from the action. You want the subject of your sentence doing the action itself. Saying “The arrow was shot at Dave” is not as effective as “Josh shot Dave with the arrow.”
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