A Guide to Avoiding Passive Voice When Writing

One of my biggest writing struggles is avoiding writing in passive voice. As an author, my goal is for my readers to get inside the head of my characters and in fact become the character. However, when authors write in passive voice they take the perspective away from the character.

What is passive voice, and how can you, the author, avoid writing in it? We will answer those two questions in today's blog post. 

What's the big deal with passive voice?

When an author writes in passive voice they indicate the subject of the sentence is being acted upon instead of taking action. However, when we write in active voice, the subject performs the action. Confused? Let's break it down. 

Examples:

-Martha ate nine peanuts before dinner. (Active voice)

-Before dinner, nine peanuts were eaten by Martha. (Passive voice)

-Kim read the novel in one day. (Active voice)

-The novel was read by Kim in one day (Passive voice)

Notice how the sentence flows much better and makes more sense when we write in active voice? So how can we find and eliminate most, if not all, instances of passive voice in our manuscripts? An easy way to identify a sentence with passive voice is if the noun performing the action is omitted from the sentence or towards the end of the sentence preceded with the word "by".

Martha ate nine peanuts before dinner. (Active voice)

-Before dinner, nine peanuts were eaten by Martha. (Passive voice)

-Kim read the novel in one day. (Active voice)

-The novel was read by Kim in one day (Passive voice)

Still confused? Author Vivien Reis came up with a unique formula a year or two ago to help identify passive voice:

verb of be + past participle = passive voice

Verbs of be: am, is, was, were, are, been

past participle verbs: -ed, -d, -t, -n, -en

Look at the examples above again. See how a verb of be is usually used before a past participle verb? 

-Martha ate nine peanuts before dinner. (Active voice)

-Before dinner, nine peanuts were eaten by Martha. (Passive voice)

-Kim read the novel in one day. (Active voice)

-The novel was read by Kim in one day (Passive voice)

Still confused? Let me give you the easiest tip yet. If you can put by zombies at the end of the sentence and it makes sense the sentence has been written in passive voice. Let's look at an example.

-The museum was attacked (Passive voice because if we rewrite the sentence to say the museum was attacked by zombies the sentence would still make sense.)

-Zombies attacked the museum. (Active voice because if we add by zombies to the end of the sentence it wouldn't make sense.)

I hope this blog post was helpful in helping you avoid writing in passive voice. If you have any other questions or additional tips, please leave them in the comments down below! 

Happy Writing!

-Jade