What is Passive Voice and Why Should I Avoid it?

Passive voice is a rather big no-no in the fiction world. I have often seen manuscripts rejected or revise and resubmit letters sent because of passive voice.
So what is passive voice?
Passive voice is when the subject is not active. Instead, the action is being done to the subject.
Here is an example:
Passive-The pancake was eaten by her
Active-She ate the pancake
Notice how in the active sentence “she” is the doer of the action.
An active sentence is structured like this: (Thing/person doing the action)+(verb)+(thing receiving the action).
When a sentence is in the passive voice, it makes the thing receiving the action more important than the person doing the action. In fiction writing, this takes the emphasis off of your characters, and you do not want that.
For example: The vacuuming was done by Annie.
The vacuuming has become more important than the character, Annie. The problem is that the vacuuming is not important to the overall story, Annie is. The sentence should be in an active voice: Annie completed the vacuuming.
Here is a link that shows you how to check for passive voice in MS Word: http://www.ehow.com/how_2273684_change-microsoft-word-settings-check.html
Here is a list of lazy verbs that often lead to passive voice:
Be, being, been, am, is, are, was, were, been, has, have, had, do, did, does, can, could, shall, should, will,
Would, might, must, may
Using these verbs is not wrong, and they do not always lead to passive voice. However, you do want to be careful and limit your use of them. Eliminating passive voice from your manuscript will increase your odds of receiving an acceptance letter.

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2 thoughts on “What is Passive Voice and Why Should I Avoid it?

  1. This was very helpful. I also enjoyed the Word tip as I had no idea the program could help check for this!

    • Theresa,
      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I am glad that you found the post helpful. When it comes to passive voice I do not think we can have to many tools. It is a tricky subject when we get into complex sentances, and one of the main things that I see maniscripts get rejected for.

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