The Dangers of Writing In Passive When an Active Voice Is Demanded.

This post is aimed towards genres such as  horror, thriller, suspense and action ( pretty much any genre where the need to grip the audience’s attention is necessary!)

Keep in mind, while reading this post, I am not expert writer. However, I have had more than my share of rough critiques, and I’m grateful for them. Without them I would not have been sought after by publicists for Nadia, and commended on my vigorous technique. My hope in writing this post is to help some of you learn a bit of what I’ve learned. 

Write in an active voice!! Do not attempt to write these genre’s in a passive voice. It will not sit well with your audience. We choose to read these genres with an expectation that we will be blown away, not put to sleep.

My greatest pet peeve,  (no doubt a lot of you out there would agree with me on this), when reading a story, is the lack of the ‘definite.’

For example, this sentence below is a large no-no.

”It was as if she was stabbed from behind and red-like juice ran from her shirt, and landed on the floor.”

That is a horrible sentence. I’ve seen it before. (I wont mention the name of the book for the sake of the author.) Unfortunately, it happens all too often with aspiring authors (including myself). This is something that NEEDS to be taught! And conquered! I struggled with (and still catch myself) writing in a passive voice. Fortunately I have a ruthless editor when it comes to spotting those embarrassing sentences. (No, you cannot have him.)

For me to feel the situation you are attempting to put me (the reader) in―you should consider writing it like this (or along the same concept)…

”A sharp pain entered her back, and cold spread along her vertebra, causing her head to spin. Warm streams of blood trailed down her torso, tickling the hairs on her skin―  forming a puddle at the heel of her foot.”  (this sentence isn’t prefect but it makes my point)

The word ‘was’ isn’t used in the second example. Why? It is taken out to make the sentence more definite for the reader. You are showing them exactly what it is that you want them to feel/imagine. No beating around the bush. Was she stabbed or not? It can’t be ‘like she was stabbed.’ She either was or wasn’t!

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when these words prove useful. If you use the word ‘was‘, use it wisely and sparingly. If you use them often, you will discourage the reader, and most likely your book will never be read in its entirety.

In fact, I challenge you to write a short story (doesnt even have to have an ending) without using the words ‘were’, ‘was’, ‘like’,  and ‘as if‘.  You aren’t expected to write it properly the first go round. The first draft is always imperfect. Write it like you see it in your mind. Then, go back and change the sentences to make them definite (active).

If you have a book you’ve recently written, and you notice this often in your story―I strongly suggest you revise. Your story will appear cleaner and easier for the reader to read. If you notice this in your book and it’s already published, then I’d make a trip to your editor and slap him around a bit. If you published your own book without an editor, shame on you.

In my experience if someone gives me their work to critique, I will highlight all the sentences that contain these words. It’s distracting and unnecessary. And professional agents/publishers that will be reading your work, will not take you seriously―when seeing this type of sentence structure. Its boring and aggravating. I’m not speaking for myself here. I am speaking for the many literary agents, and a few editors that I’ve confronted about this very topic, hoping to form a debate against my critiquer (if that isn’t a word, it should be). I came out with nothing. Absolutely no argument to approach my critiquer with.

I can’t emphasize enough  the importance of good sentence structure. It’s the fine line to making your book a ‘good read.’ It’s a nightmare looking at the books that have been neglected in the editing department, and yet I still see them published. How does this happen? No flipping idea. If they are a serious publishing company, it would never have made it past them. The story would have been sent back to the author for a rewrite.

Again! This is all based on what I’ve learned and what has been said to me by professionals and semi-professionals. Some of you may not agree with my blunt way of approaching the subject, but when it comes to writing―nothing should be sugar-coated.  If this is a career that you wish to seek then it should be taken seriously.  If you’d like to write your book with your own rules on structure, go for it. No one can make you write a certain way.

My biggest advice would be to take advice of professionals and pay attention so that you may grow and become a better writer.

 I wish you all the very very best and I must say I am proud of you for doing what it takes to better yourself and daring to put yourself out there for the world to see. 

Faithfully your passionate writer,

A. Joleigh


3 thoughts on “The Dangers of Writing In Passive When an Active Voice Is Demanded.

  1. I have a proofreader, not a full editor, who worked on some of my first drafts. The passive sentences are in the top five biggest critiques. Your points have put it in a way that I will keep in mind as I do the first review before editing. Thank you for your points.
    -Jerry B

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