Once, in writing group, we held a passive voice clinic. Each of us sought out passive sentences from our current works in progress and obliterated them. By the end of the night, we each felt so energized and inspired, I thought it would be awesome to invite you to join a mini clinic here with me. I will post the discussions we had and the problems we worked through so you can edit right alongside us! So whip out your work in progress and get ready to improve your writing!
Why is passive writing such a detrimental thing? Essentially it comes down to two crucial facts. First, writing in a passive voice pulls your readers out of the action. Active voice will put your reader in your character's shoes and envelope them in the story. Second, passive writing muddies up your sentences with filler words. For example, here's an excerpt from Shattered Snow rewritten in passive and active voice:
She had been expecting—no, not expecting—hoping for this letter. Her eager fingers were greasy and they left black fingerprints all over the pure white surface. She was so desperate to open it that she really didn’t care. Inside was an entire packet, neatly stapled together at the top.
Word count: 50
She expected—no, not expected—hoped for this letter. Her eager fingers left greasy fingerprints on the pure white surface. She felt too desperate to care. Inside sat a neatly stapled packet.
Word count: 32
I didn't change any of the content, but I eliminated 28 words bogging down the pace of my story.
So, with these two benefits in mind, let's move on to the grammatical rules of passive vs. active writing. Each sentence you write has a subject and a verb. The subject is the noun that will be doing something in your sentence. However, utilizing the correct verbs are will become the core of your success.
In active writing, the subject acts.
In passive writing, the subject is acted upon.
Active: The car hit me.
Passive: I was hit by the car.
Do you see how wordy the passive sentence is and how punchy the active sentence is? Now, if this concept is a little hard to grasp, don't worry. You can read up about it here in greater depth, but here's a quick tip to help you kick out passive sentences aggressively...
The verb "to be" and all its conjugations are the culprit behind most passive writing. So, if you press control+f in your word processor and search out the following words, you will isolate the sentences that need editing.
Be, Am, Is, Are, Was, Were, Been, Being.
At first, when my publisher gave me this recommendation for a self-edit round, my jaw dropped. These words are so common! Could I really make it through my entire manuscript without using these? I began my search, slowly rooting out these words and I cut out over 5,000 words without cutting any scenes or plot. That means that I had 5,000 words of clutter sitting in my manuscript bogging it down! Once I removed these words, I was amazed at how different my manuscript looked. I can't wait for you to see what it does for you!
So, search through your manuscript and find "to be". Leave a comment with your before and after sentences for me to see. And if you have any questions, feel free to reach out.