Writing Tip #1 – Passive Voice

One of the most common errors people make is writing in passive voice.  This slows down the action of your story and should be avoided as much as possible.  How do I recognize passive voice you ask? Passive voice always consists of a form of “be” and the past tense of the verb   Placing “had” or “have been” in front of your verbs is a quick way to recognize passive.  For example, The squirrels had been barked at by the dogs.  (passive voice)  The dog barked at the squirrels.  (Active voice -much more clean and it moves the action of the dog into the present and moves the story forward).

In Active Voice the subject acts

In Passive Voice the subject is acted upon.

Only use passive voice when the actor (subject) is unimportant or unknown.

Please add your tips for recognizing and dealing with passive voice.

Books by Kelly Abell     Cover Designs by Select-O-Grafix

Copyright 2014 by Kelly Abell

About Kelly Abell

I am a writer, blogger, and graphic artist. My aim for you is to utilize this blog to help you improve your writing skills, and to educate you on the publishing business. If you need help with writing, want to self-publish a book and need advice, or just want to kick a story idea around to see what works best, that's what I'm here for. As I gain knowledge from editors and publishers, I will share that knowledge with you. As writers we should always strive to improve our craft and grow. A day should not pass where you haven't learned or tried something new with your writing. Many thanks to my Night Owl Friend, Lea Ellen Borg for editing my posts! Best to you and all your characters and stories. Write on, my friends...Write on.
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4 Responses to Writing Tip #1 – Passive Voice

  1. Congratulations on your new blog Kelly. Don’t forget you can set up most WP programs to alert you to passive voice. I’d also gently question whether passive voice is always such a bad thing. Certainly if there is any action involved then it is inappropriate but many people, myself included, use passive voice when speaking– but not all the time, naturally. I find that when writing, pv sometimes can help the flow. I think of it like this; writing in Active Voice is a bit like a series of illustrations strung together to form a moving picture. It can be–can be–a little staccato. Passive voice I find good for descriptive passages, say of landscapes/settings where you don’t want the reader to zero-in on any particular detail–also good for mystery writers if you want to include a detail in the description but don’t want to draw it to the reader’s attention right then and there.


    • Kelly Abell says:

      Hi Peter,
      Great discussion. I don’t disagree with what you are saying. I bring it to light though, because too often writers don’t understand the difference or when to use it. You share a great example of when passive voice could be appropriate. Thanks for sharing. This is exactly the kind of activity I hoped we could generate for this blog.


  2. Hi Kelly. I think your piece on passive/active writing is spot on. I wouldn’t rule out “passive”. It has it’s place like every other style of writing. The important thing is that it’s used consciously and only in circumstances where it works best. It’s good to open up these issues for discussion.


    • Kelly Abell says:

      Hi David,
      I agree totally. As I responded to Peter, I bring it to the forefront so writers can tell the difference and when it is appropriate to use it. Your comment is similar to Peter’s and gives a good example of when it may be appropriate. Sometimes passive voice is overused and something I still struggle with. Thanks so much for the discussion. Let’s keep it going! 🙂


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