The Writing Life
first rule of writing is Show,
Tell, the second should be Keep It
Active. Active voice is
what puts us in the middle of the action and
allows us to feel.
Passive voice is what gives us the feeling
that someone is telling us a
story that happened once upon a time.
suddenly feel the room widely circling
around him before he
started to wake up. He was feeling
completely horrible. He hated
feeling that way. Slowly rolling to his
stomach and silently swinging
one leg off the bed, he could use the
floor as an anchor. The floor was
solid and it would help to stop the
dizziness. There was a good chance
he would be very sick.
Okay, let's examine why this leaves us
breathless with boredom.
- Unnecessary words. Any word that doesn't
add to your
story detracts from it. Examine your prose
for words like these:
started to, began to, proceeded to, could,
would, there was, there are,
there is, there were, seemed to, tried to.
- Inactive verbs. Watch for passive verbs,
such as was,
is, were, and are. Replace them with
active verbs, the most active and
descriptive words you can think of.
- Gerunds and present participle words
Verbs ending with "ing" are by nature more
passive than those ending
- Adverbs. Those -ly words that precede a
it, not strengthen it. If your verb isn't
strong enough to make the
statement you want it to make, find a
- Intensifiers. Very, really, totally,
truly and so on. Is completely empty any
look at our example above, let's examine
each of these concepts
individually and see how they suck the power
right out of our prose.
Each of the following sentence pairs gives a
poorly written sentence,
followed by one that improves it.
- It is the governor's plan to
The governor plans to visit
- John proceeded to dump sand on
John dumped sand on the castle.
- There were eight tiny reindeer leading
Eight tiny reindeer led Santa's
- Jack could hear laughter.
Jack heard laughter.
- Erin was sleeping.
- Mike was very tired.
Mike was exhausted.
Better yet: Exhaustion dripped
through Mike's bones like
- She quickly and purposefully walked
and sharply hit his arm.
She strode to Jarod and punched
moment to rewrite the sentence incorporating
an active voice. More
than one answer is possible. You may need to
omit full sentences or
way to rework the above example:
circled around Ray. He rolled to his
stomach and swung one leg off
the bed, using the floor as an anchor.
Even before he opened his eyes,
he knew he would be sick.
many words, twice the power. Learning to
change ineffective passive
prose into active voice is one of the most
important things you can do
to increase the quality of your fiction.
mind that grammar tools won't catch all
types of passive sentences.
Why not fix all your errors at once? Our
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