Passive or Active?

One of the best articles I read recently, regarded writing in a passive or active voice.

Since I’m in the process of a major edit, I’ve noticed that I frequently write passively. That’s something I’m changing, and I’m amazed at the difference in the way my book reads.

Even though I’m writing in third person, and I use the word ‘was’ frequently, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always using it, and it’s not necessary. Let me explain…

Here’s a simple sentence: He was alone. Okay…that works. Cut and dry. (very dry) But, it paints a picture in my mind, and it’s alright.

But here’s what you don’t want to do: He was  walking down the street going to the grocery store. (passive voice). To make this sentence active, change it to: He walked down the street to the grocery store.  See/hear the difference?

Of course, these are made up, sample sentences, and not something I would put in a book. If I did, my readers would be bored to tears!

One of the first sentences I ever wrote in a book was: She had grown up there, and it was all she’d ever known. Learning what I know now, that sentence became: She grew up there, and it was all she knew. (But, to tell you the truth, I have completely removed that sentence, because it was in an ‘introduction’ to my book which has been completely eliminated!)

Here is another simple example: He was standing in the doorway.

The simple change: He stood in the doorway.

It’s always good to read aloud what you’ve written. If it flows off your tongue naturally, that’s a good sign. If it jolts you, and doesn’t feel right, then it will most likely jolt your

readers and you will need to look closely at what jolted you and fix it. It’s important to get your thoughts on paper, (computer), but remember that it can always be changed. It sometimes helps to walk away from it for a while. I’m surprised at how many times I can go back to something I wrote, and after re-reading, see exactly how I need to fix it and make it better.

If you’ve ever written a sentence that makes you wince each time you read it, it feels really good when you come up with a way to say what you mean in an “unwincable” way. (Yes, I know…it’s not a word!)



He looked out the window.

He looked out the window.


2 thoughts on “Passive or Active?

  1. I was amazed the first time I went to a writing conference and found out that I used passive voice ALL THE TIME. I didn’t even know what that meant! The woman editing my first few pages said she LOVED the writing, but couldn’t get past how many “-ing” words I used. Now it’s difficult for me to write in passive voice at all. It was a great eye-opener and helped my writing immensely. I’m glad you posted about it because it can really make the difference between a good book that you don’t mind reading and a great one that captures and holds your attention.

  2. I’m right there with you! The other thing I’ve been trying to eliminate is adverbs. That’s a subject for another post!! I appreciate your comment. It’s always nice to know that other writers have experienced the same trials and errors. I believe I learn something new every day. 🙂

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