Thursday, January 22, 2009

Active and Passive Voice

I don’t know about you, but one of the most often talked about parts of writing that new authors flub is active versus passive voice. Well, let me correct that, the most misunderstood parts of writing are active versus passive voice. Using passive is second. After I explain passive voice, maybe you will be able to find it in your own writing.

How do you know when you are using passive voice? Most often the clue is hidden in the sentence under the guise of “be” words such as am, is, was, or were. You should be careful and examine the clues however, because these passive critters are tricky.

What characterizes a passive sentence? Oh, that’s easy. If you have kids, you will get this. You know how kids often will say, “Not me!” Well, passive voice is the same as a guilty kid. Something or someone is not stepping up and taking responsibility!

Example: The trash was taken out by Tom.
Well, heckfire, why doesn’t Tom just stroll up at that point and own up to his action?

The active version : Tom took the trash out.

Again: Books will be sold by Kim at the workshop.
Ha! How come Kim doesn’t sell ‘em herself?

Active: Kim will sell books at the workshop.

See? Easy once you think about it.

Not to say that passive voice doesn’t have a place in writing. It really does, and it is widely used in science and science-related materials. Usually if your sentence sounds weak and boring, you may have the passive voice issue going on.

Passive means idle, not being used much.

Now, just so you know, I have not been a passive writer. I have been very active! I have signed two contracts this week and you, my dear reader and friend, will be seeing my name on two pieces of fiction over the next six to eight months. Ahem. There is a catch. These two items are ROMANCE. Yes, yes, I know. What is a Murder by 4 contributor doing writing romance? Well, you see, that’s the beauty of fiction. You can make a mysterious romance and you can make a romantic mystery.

I will let you be the judge, but just know that A WILL TO LOVE and LOVE WALTZES are signed, sealed, and delivered. I will keep you posted as time goes along.

Kim is the author of the Shannon Wallace Mysteries. You can get your copy at


s.w. vaughn said...

Kim! This is fantastic news!!!



And what an excellent way to explain active/passive voice. You're right; it's so hard to 'get' what that means. This is a great trick to use.

Kim Smith said...

Thanks SW!

Kim Smith said...
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Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Kim, good points above. Because we often talk in that passive voice, it's hard for newbie writers to catch it and correct it. SW is the one who "fixed" me on this front - highlighting the "to be" verbs as crutches. Although it's natural for us to say in conversation, "He had silver hair," it's much nicer if you can change around your sentence to say something like, "the wind ruffled his silver hair," or something like that. Thanks, and a huge congratulations on your new contracts!

Kim Smith said...

Thanks Aaron! In case you guys missed it, Aaron's chat with me on the radio is now on the sidebar!

Marta Stephens said...

Whoa! Great news! Congratulations and a very creative way to explain this pain in the next rule. ;)