Active vs. Passive Voice

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:

  1. A cake should have been made.
  2. 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:

  1. The car was stolen by Robert, using a fake key.
  2. 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.”

If you like what you see, don’t forget to reblog and follow. See you guys next time.

–N.L., 2017

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Author: napoleonlovecraft

Napoleon Lovecraft is a blogger and author from the suburbs of Maumelle, Arkansas. Born in 1988, Lovecraft is a lover of the fantasy genre. It is his goal to write in as many fantasy subgenres before he kicks the bucket, with stories ranging from short stories to full-length novels. His debut novel, Kingslayer, is expected to be a unique take on the High Fantasy genre, having been told in first person and aided with footnotes, not to mention the fact that it is set in a non-medieval fantasy world. Lovecraft is studying for his BA in both Professional Writing and Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas. He lives in Greenbrier, Arkansas with his family, where his dog and seven cats keep him in line.

3 thoughts on “Active vs. Passive Voice”

  1. I don’t think that I usually have much of a problem with this — not that I’ve noticed, at least. I’m not sure why it would naturally occur to anyone to use the passive construction in instances where it sounds forced and inappropriate (maybe a bad case of what I call “school-paper-itis”?) For instance, I’m not sure who anyone would find themselves writing, “The street was walked down by me.”

    Seems like a lot of times it’s more about cases that fall into a grey area. You take something like, “The horse was found dead in the road.” Yeah, maybe it would be better if you had SOMEONE actively finding the horse in this state, but sometimes it depends on context and mood and tone and rhythm.

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    1. In fact, now that I think about it, a good exception of thumb to the passive voice rule would be: If you can’t muster up a better active subject that a generic “someone”, you might want to at least CONSIDER using the passive voice.

      …Or you could try to cast someone halfway interesting to find the dead horses in your story.

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