Faye Arcand, My Twisted Writer Brain…

Passive Voice Will Kill Your Chance at Success

Your manuscript has been rejected yet again. The last agent sent you a kind note that said the idea is good but its written in the passive voice. You take the manuscript, scroll through the first couple of chapters and wonder what the heck is passive voice and why does it make a difference?

Or– you self publish a book. You’re thrilled to get a review only to find the readers states that the story is compelling but it’s written in a passive voice and therefore not recommended. Wth?

You’re not alone. Trust me–this concept of the “passive” voice and the “active” voice elude many writers. Unless you’re going to get into the grammatical nitty-gritty of the explantation it can be difficult to grasp but if you want to succeed it’s imperative you learn.

The reason this is important to understand is because it shows a marked maturity in your writing when it’s in active voice. The writing is tighter, more concise, and easier to read. So here’s your chance to grasp the basic rules of active and passive voice and up your game. Here’s a link you can check that discusses passive voice at length https://www.redlinels.com/passive-voice-examples/

Okay. Here goes…

The Writing Center defines passive voice as follows:

“A passive construction occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. That is, whoever or whatever, is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence.” https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/passive-voice/

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I read this and I want to scratch out my eyes. I always zoned out in grammar class–so as a result when I hear or see grammatical terms, my head immediately hurts. I’m going to let you chew on the definitions though because they’re important to learn.

Here’s the rule: 

form of “to be” + past participle = passive voice

ugh. ugh. ugh. 

What is the active voice?

An active voice is used to classify sentences in which the subject of the sentence is the one actively performing the action of the verb.

ugh ugh ugh! 

Most professional editors, agents, and publishers want writing to be in an active voice. It quickens the pace of the story by getting rid of extraneous words and the emphasis is on the subject so it’s more concise. And, just so you know, if there’s no subject the sentence can’t be active.

Here are some helpful tips from an article: 101Ways To Improve Your Writing.  http://onemoreexclamation.com/improve-your-writing/

Remove -ing words (which follow was and were) to make your passive sentences more active.

  • She was skipping down the street. 
  • She skipped down the street. 
  • They were driving east.
  • They drove east.

Here are some passive words that you should avoid. It won’t possible to completely remove them and that’s okay. Use this chart as a guide and reminder.

  • am
  • are – aren’t
  • be – been – being
  • can – can’t
  • could – couldn’t
  • did – didn’t 
  • do – don’t – done – does
  • give
  • had – hadn’t
  • has – hasn’t
  • have – haven’t
  • I’ll – I’m – I’d – I’ve
  • is – isn’t
  • it’s
  • make
  • must
  • shall
  • should – shouldn’t
  • was – wasn’t
  • we’d
  • were – weren’t
  • would – wouldn’t – would’ve 

Here’s a link to some practice exercise sheets (with answers) so you can practice. https://www.georgebrown.ca/sites/default/files/uploadedfiles/tlc/_documents/Passive_voice_-practice.pdf

15 thoughts on “Passive Voice Will Kill Your Chance at Success”

    1. Thanks Norma. There are a couple of times when passive is necessary–ie: no clear subject and since I know you’re an editor could you give me an example of when passive voice would be ideal…xo

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