Thursday, April 22, 2010

Active & Passive writing

As I've been editing/revising I've begun to take notice of the "voice" of my sentence structure. The voice I'm referring to isn't the writing style that voice is usually associated with. I'm referring more toward the tone of the voice. I know that there is a better way to explain it - I'm just too ignorant to know it. So I am going to use an example from a line I currently revised.

"The view of the gathering was revealed to Alice when the executioner fell forward."
This was my original line. I once read that when revising you need to identify "active" or "passive" in your writing. An active voice has Cause then Effect while a passive shows the Effect follow by the cause. In fiction writing the writers wants to build tension and the active voice helps build that down to the sentence level. My example above shows the effect "gathering was reveled" before the cause "the executioner fell forward". This is a passive voice. So I switched the cause and effect - here is my revised sentence.

"The executioner fell forward revealing to Alice the view of the gathering below."
With this revised sentence even though the story is told in a past tense the reader gets the feeling of the action happening - thus the active voice. Now that I've written it this way the second sentence will need to be revised - and the rest of that paragraph. Regardless of the amount of revisions if I keep the tension of the writing up the reader will be compelled to continue with the story.

I'm not an English major (or been very attentive in High School English) so I might not be using the correct words for the "active" and "passive" writing. Feel free to correct me. The fact remains that we need to keep a look out for lapses into "passive" voice (not to mention the use of our "crutch words"). We writers want to hold our reader's attention so that they can't put the book down. If we can do that, they'll want to pick up another of our stories. Which means a demand for future books. See - the salesman is taking over.


  1. Excellent post! I think you explained it just fine. It was especially helpful to read your sentence example.

  2. Great post. I often have a problem with passive voice with my writing. "Have been" is a weakness in my MS which needs to be eliminated. The examples were useful, thanks.

  3. Great post. Loved the examples. I'm on the lookout in my MS