Tips for authors: the active voice

Don’t use the passive voice. I’ve heard that advice over and over when I looked up editing tips. Avoid the passive voice, it will suck the life out of your sentence. Use the active voice.

I remember the first time I read this particular bit of advice. I literally scratched my little mathematical head and thought: what’s the passive voice? I had heard the word passive used by my husband the therapist but he used it as: passive-agressive. I doubted that was what they meant.

The passive voice is when the receiver of the action is placed in the position of subject. Huh? Yeap. That’s what I thought.

Example: (active voice) The boy threw a stick.

(passive voice) The stick was thrown by the boy.

It’s all fine and dandy to see it on a clear example. It’s much, MUCH harder to spot it in a novel. Especially if you’re writing it. I, for one, could never see it in my own sentences.

Solution: if you use Word, you can set your preferences in editing so that the program looks for the passive voice and underlines your passive sentences for you. It’s awesome! You don’t have to spot them, the computer does it. (yeey!)

Now, this post so far might not make any sense to you at all…so here are some links with other helpful sites that explain the passive voice issue and, hopefully, bring understanding.

Nathan Bransford is an amazing resource and an author to boot. I would highly recommend this article:

This next one is a GREAT post because it’s actually a handout from a class. It’s got myths about the passive voice, what it is (with an actual definition not like my made up mess), examples when to use it and other helpful parts. I wouldn’t miss this one.

Five tips on how to avoid the dreaded passive-voice.

A post by Kelly Leiter with other links and tips on differentiating between the active and passive voice.

Finally, Stephen King rants on why he hates the passive voice.

Hope this helps someone out!