Writer's Cramps

"Passive Voice"

by L. S. King

don't create a whodunnit mystery

One of the current trends in writing circles is to tell writers it is Bad or Wrong to use passive voice. However, many people don't know what that really means. Despite what you may have been told, it's not any form of the verb to be with an -ing word, such as Slap was running. (Slap is the subject of the sentence, and he is doing the action: running.)

Passive voice, also called passive tense, is actually any form of the verb to be with a past participle (often but not always a word ending in -ed). It's when the object of the action is made the subject of the sentence:

Slap was blown off his feet.

Slap isn't doing anything - something was done to him. By what or whom? There's your 'whodunnit mystery.' Try this:

The explosion blew Slap off his feet.

There - active sentence, the explosion (subject of sentence) did something to Slap (object of sentence).

Passive voice or passive tense often infiltrates writing and saps it of excitement, strength, and life. It should be avoided in fiction writing, unless you have a specific purpose. Let me re-emphasize this: if you, as a writer, are consciously aware that you need to use passive voice to keep focus on an object, or to keep focus away from the subject (perhaps you are trying to hide from the reader who did what to your protag), then passive voice is indicated. Limitedly. Let me repeat that: limitedly.

For further reading:
Passive Voice.

Next up: "Passive Writing."

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