Monday, 25 April 2011

Writing Tip: Passive Voice

There is a bane of the writer, one horror that can bring down the most prolific pen. It is the dreaded...


“Passive Voice”


Passive voice feeds on all those words of “was”, “were”, “begin to”, “have been”, “had”, “almost” and the rest of their ilk that pepper through the narrative. And it kills the pace of your story, slowing the action, making your prose, gasp, boring.

Don’t despair if you fight this problem, you are not alone. I struggle with this foe myself, weeding the “was” from my prose often, sighing as the war rages on.  However, there is hope, as most instances of passive voice can be rewritten and if it creeps in to your drafts, it can be edited out.

So, take your stand against the passive voice and show your readers, do not tell.

Example:

Passive Voice:

Elwin was drawing his bow and was aiming his arrows at the Chimera as fast as he could. He was firing them, but he could see he was not having much effect on the creature. His arrows were hitting the beast and the beast was screaming in pain, but it was not falling. The Chimera was still moving forward, it was still coming.

Non-Passive Voice:

In rapid succession Elwin fired his arrows, each deadly projectile aimed at the heart of the Chimera. They hit their mark, blood drawn, but the beast still lumbered forward, screaming its pain, still coming for Elwin.


Now both examples narrate the same story, but the pace, the flow is different in each paragraph. Remember, the best way to describe a scene is not to tell it to your readers detail by detail, but to show it through well chosen descriptive words.

Good writing gives the reader what they need to form a picture, to inspire the imagination.  It does not read like a step-by-step instruction manual.

5 comments:

Rogue Mutt said...

Yup, but like all things in writing there are times when you don't have much choice about using it.

Joylene Butler said...

Excellent examples, Anita. Passive voice is something I struggle with. I think it's something to do with the storyteller in me. I have the "Once upon a time" syndrome.

A. F. Stewart said...

No, you can't edit every "was" type word out, and the occsasional sprinkling isn't going to hurt the story. It's when entire scenes or pages are written in passive voice that it's a problem.

A. F. Stewart said...

I know how you feel, Joylene, I have to stop myself constantly to not put in the "was" or the "had".

J.Lee McKenzie said...

Thanks for the tip.