How to Recognize and Correct Passive Voice in Creative Writing

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Most writers have heard that they should write in active rather than passive voice. Hearing this advise and comprehending how and why you should (generally) change your passive sentences to active sentences are two completely different things. To choose the optimal decision for your work, you must understand the benefits, drawbacks, and impacts of passive wording.

Passive Voice Defined by Grammar Guides

When the subject of a sentence is acted upon rather than performing an action, passive voice is produced. This appears to be:

The toilet was overflowing with water.

The park had been decorated with streamers. 

In this line, notice how the toilet is not overflowing. The water, on the other hand, is acting on it. The park is also not involved in the decoration process. Passive voice is created by using words like “is/was,” “be/been,” and “-ing” nouns following a verb like “was.”

In creative writing, the extended passive voice is defined.

There are additional methods to make a phrase passive in creative writing, such as initiating an action or informing the reader how a character feels. This type of passive voice is created by words like “starting/beginning” and “feeling/felt.” This is how they appear:

Jim began running after Fluffy.

Jim just began to run instead of doing the running movement.

Sarah was depressed.

The passive phrase here is informing rather than showing. Instead of demonstrating Sarah’s sadness, the line just informs the reader that she is unhappy. When writing, this style of passive phrase is symptomatic of passive thought. When the author should be attempting to create a more thorough experience for their reader, they are reporting the tale.

Active Voice Definition

The preferable phrase is active voice, in which the sentence’s subject executes the action. Here’s how you can change the passive language in these cases to active phrase:

The toilet overflowed with water.

The park was festooned with streamers.

Jim pursued Fluffy.

Sarah’s eyes welled up with tears.

Notice how the verbs in these new phrases are more active and descriptive. They create a more comprehensive and distinct picture than the passive variants. To make these lines more powerful, all I had to do was remove the passive terms.

 

PASSIVE VOICE SLOWS YOUR PACE

Passive phrasing, which includes phrases like “began,” “was,” and “had been,” slows down the pace of your tale by adding unnecessary words that don’t add to the reader’s experience. “Was” is a meaningless word. When I mention “was,” it probably doesn’t conjure up any images in your mind. “Begin” is the same way. The reader’s image and action are created by the other words in the phrase, therefore use more of those particular, vivid, colourful words and fewer of the empty ones.

When you filter the tale too literally through the eyes of your character, the plot slows down in a similar way. Because your reader understands that they are experiencing the tale through the eyes of a certain character whether you write in first, third, or second person, you don’t need to state things like “Sally heard a loud crash” or “Timmy saw his paper boat sink.” Instead of “Bang!” or “The paper boat sunk,” write “Bang!” or “The paper boat sank.”

Allowing passive voice to slow the pace of your tale accidentally with unnecessary or empty words is not a good idea. You should only slow down on purpose. Do a word search for “was,” “began,” or any other passive words you employ if you have a habit of using them. If you find

yourself filtering your tale too literally via your character’s eyes, conduct a word search for “heard” or “see.” Rewrite those phrases to speed up your writing and tighten your prose.

 

PASSIVE PHRASING DISTANCES READERS FROM CHARACTERS AND ACTION

You isolate your reader and characters from the action, events, and environment of your work when you utilise prolonged creative writing passive terminology like “began to run” or “felt.” People rarely begin to undertake something and then finish it. When you mention a character began to accomplish something, you’re implying that they were interrupted and didn’t finish it. You’ve also included an extra word that isn’t essential. This separates the character from the action, almost as if you, the author, haven’t committed your character to it. This distance is transferred to the reader, who is pushed further away from the tale.

In this sense, the “heard/saw” filter also distances your reader. Rather than enabling the reader to hear “Bang,” you force them to watch the character hear it. By removing “heard,” your reader will be able to hear “Bang!” instead of “heard.”

Telling your reader how a character feels has the opposite issue as most other instances of passive phrasing: you’re using too few, not too many words. This is due to the fact that this is more passive thought than passive voice. “Felt” is a generic term that is frequently used as a result of sloppy writing. Don’t just tell your reader what your character is feeling; show them how they are feeling. What do they look like when they’re sad? What does it feel like within their body? What role does emotion play in their decision-making? Telling builds a barrier between your reader and your narrative since it doesn’t provide your reader enough information to generate a complete mental image.You’re missing out on crucial possibilities for character growth. The way a person perceives and processes emotion reveals a lot about their personality and self-control.

When an author is separating themself from their work, passive voice and phrasing might emerge. You could unconsciously try to detach yourself from a tough scenario or write about something that makes you uncomfortable or that you don’t know much about if you’re writing about something that makes you uncomfortable or that you don’t know much about. This frequently necessitates the use of passive rather than active language in writing. Make sure these tricky sequences are active by double-checking them.

 

WHY DOES AN EDITOR RECOMMEND AVOIDING PASSIVE VOICE FOR THE MOST PART?

Today’s readers like stories that are fast-paced and to the point. The passive voice is the polar opposite of active voice.

Passive wording, on the other hand, isn’t entirely terrible. To convey your point, rephrasing might often imply producing a confusing statement or using too many words. If your character is running to their child to make sure they aren’t infected with a zombie virus, concluding the scenario with “Caroline got bitten.” is more effective than “The corpse bit Caroline before we pulled her back.”

When it comes to rephrasing passive voice, my rule of thumb is to consider the effort and consequences of changing it. If the statement may be easily changed, I use active voice. I rework a statement if it isn’t easy to modify but becomes more colourful or detailed when revised. I leave the passive voice if the line is difficult to rewrite and the tale does not benefit from further facts, character insight, or clearer action. The passive voice should be avoided rather than eliminated.

In the final phases of rewriting, passive voice should be examined and corrected. While you’re drafting, it’s not something you should be too concerned about. Check your sentences after you’ve trimmed and changed scenes for plot and structure reasons. To Ignite Your Ink, go from passive to active voice to tighten your language, accelerate up your pace, and create more vivid descriptions.

What kind of passive wording should you be aware of? When I’m creating the scenario, I check for “was” and delete the passive word by making the setting move. Subscribe to Ignite Your Ink for additional writing tips and a synonym voice building worksheet to learn more about managing voice.

 

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