Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stop Writing Passively

If you're like me, you have a tendency to drift into passive voice without even really meaning to.

The lovely 'to be' verbs show up unexpectedly like your Cousin Dennis after you've won the lottery. Unexpected and unwanted. Only they won't steal your lawnmower. Instead, they steal excitement from your writing.

What do I mean by 'to be'?

I was thinking about going to the party. It would have been a great time, I know it. I was going to wear my green party dress.

This whole statement is in passive voice. Verbs such as was, is, would have can remove the action from your story. But don’t get out your red pen yet.

Not all passive voice is bad. So you shouldn’t remove it willy-nilly.

In things like dialogue, passive voice usually is the way to go. People normally speak in passive voice, not active. However, if you’re not doing dialogue, you need to watch out for the tricky ‘to be’s’.

Corrected Example:
I thought about going to the party and wearing my green party dress.

See how the corrected version is more immediate? Now if only there really was a party. But then again, the only party dress I have is a 1980's puffy cocktail dress from some forgotten high school prom.

I'd be sparkin' hot in that.

What was that, a passive verb?

Ack! They're everywhere.

How can you see how much passive voice you're using?

You could reply on a fellow writer to review your novel for you. But for some reason, not every writer wants to read 80,000 words of a rough draft. I can't understand why. And not every writer is great at spotting passive voice. Writers like myself.

So instead, you should try a fun website like Aztekera.

You can paste sections of your novel into Aztekera, click on the check button and get both a percentage of 'to be' verbs and a listing of the individual lines.

Now, Aztekera won't tell you which passive sentences you should keep, if any. It's not your mother. It won't make you chicken soup when you're sick either.

But it will give a quick way to see if you're writing actively or passively.
Don't be a Passive Patsy!

Check out Aztekera

~ Tirzah


  1. Great post, Tirz. Passive voice can take over a manuscript. :)

  2. Thanks for the link to that passive checker. I will make sure I use it.


  3. I'm reposting a few of my articles for Journeys but hey it's my blog....LOL

  4. Great post and thanks for the link.