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Monday, May 18, 2009

One Writer's Mind: Passive Voice

If you haven't guessed, I don't have a set curriculum about writing.

One bit of advice for writers hasn't changed in all my years as a writer. Editors repeated it again, many times, at the recent conference. Avoid passive voice.

A friend asked me, "What is passive voice?"

I could direct you back to high school grammar, diagramming sentences and direct objects. "To be" verbs are passive. I am, you are, he/she/it is. I was, you were, he/she/it was. "Feel" and "seem" fall into the same category, and "to have" verbs are also weak.

Here is an example from my current WIP (work in progress):

I could have said, "It was cold."

Instead this I wrote this: "their breaths formed identical puffs in the frigid air."

Passive voice also refers to sentences where the subject of the sentence is being acted upon instead of doing the acting. I know, that sounds as clear as mud. Consider the difference between the following sentences:

My house was robbed by a stranger.

A stranger robbed my house.

She was upset because of her bad grades.

The bad grades upset her.

The solution to this problem with passive voice usually involves switching the second half of the sentence with the first.

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