Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Problem of Passive Voice

Many novice and independent authors use passive voice in their novels. When I edit, both for myself and for others, I like to pick out passive voice in a novel and encourage the author to remove it. Passive voice is tedious and boring to read and will exhaust the reader. An author's goal needs to be keeping the reader with them through the novel and into its sequel or the next novel that she publishes. The use of passive voice may contribute to the loss of a reader. Remember that not every reader will review your work: If you're using passive voice, you are making the narrative tedious and you are losing readers who may otherwise have stuck with your book.

Moreover, many readers don't know what passive voice is, because, after all, they are readers and leave the writing up to you. They only know they don't like what they're reading. Imagine how many more positive book reviews you'll get if you cut down on the amount of passive voice you use in your books.

This article proposes to explain the active and passive voice to authors who may be reading this blog.

Let's begin by discussing the relationship between a subject and the related verb. If you're an author who has never diagrammed sentences or who doesn't understand all parts of speech, this is a time to lean the various sentence parts before continuing. I'll briefly explain what the subject and verb are, for those who don't have the grammatical lessons necessary to understand these sentence parts.

The subject of your sentence is the thing (or person) the sentence is about. It is usually the first noun in a sentence (in English).

The nouns of the sentence below is in bold.

Becki looked at Michelle and narrowed her eyes at her friend.

Do you know which noun is the subject? Remember, the subject of the sentence is usually the first noun in the sentence.

In this case, the subject of the sentence is Becki.

A verb is a word which describes what something or someone is or does.

For example, the verbs are bolded in the below examples:

Becki narrowed her eyes at her friend.

Becki is a good friend.

The above sentences are written in the active voice because the verb describes what the subject does.

In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon by another agent.

The above sentences can be made passive as follows:

Michelle was looked at by Becki, whose eyes were narrowed at her friend.

Passive sentences are generally longer than active sentences and make for a good place to cut the fat from tedious text in your novel. Remember that you should always write your first draft big, then revise to make it smaller. Never use passive voice to make your novel longer. Whenever you can re-word your sentences to make them more active, you should. Your readers will appreciate the improved flow in your novel and will feel more connected with your characters.