Thursday, September 4, 2008

How to Edit for Passive Voice...continued

Editing for passive voice initially means seeking out and replacing many of the instances where a writer used the verb 'to be'. Replacing weak verbs with stronger action verbs will improve their writing immediately.

Passive voice results from the over use of the 'to be' verb. Instances include using; am, is, was, were, be, being and been. The opposite of Passive voice is Active voice and this comes about when the writer uses action verbs. For example; run, hop, hit, crash, slash. A read can visualise an action verb. They can see somebody ACT, but they cannot visualise somebody BEING.

Passive voice will slow a writing and increases the word count without achieving stronger writing. Passive voice can be confusing because it does not conform to the basic SVO form of sentence structure. SVO for those who aren't familiar with the concept means SUBJECT VERB OBJECT. Without following this form senteces can become jumbled, confusing and can become too complicated.

Compare the following sentences.

Caleath swung the sword. ACTIVE VOICE Subject (Caleath) Verb (swung) Object (sword).

The sword was swung by Caleath. PASSIVE

The sword was swung. PASSIVE

The first sentence tells us who is doing the action straigh out. The second example leaves us wondering who might be swinging the sword and the last one tells us very little.

The ACTIVE voice is achieved by choosing strong, vivid verbs that will describe an action rather than weak passive verbs that tell us what has happened. Active voice can bring the reader into the story, while passive voice keeps the reader at a distance.

Another Example. Stryder copied the map. (active)

The map was copied by Stryder. (passive)

The map was copied. (passive)

So, to avoid creating passive voice problems go through your manuscript and remove and replace at least a third of the instances of the verb 'to be'. (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been). Look for sentences that do not follow the SVO form and change them. It isn't difficult. When you find a sentence in the OVS form, find who or what is the subject that is doing the action and start the sentence with them. Find the object and place it at the end of the sentence.

Passive voice can be edited out again, by combining weaker sentences. Revise weak sentences, to convey an idea in a more powerful, descriptive manner.

Note: Passive voice is used often in reports and essays. We are talking about writing Fantasy and as such we want to pull the reader into the Fantasy world we are creating. Reports have their place, and passive voice has it's use but we are learning how to improve our writing.

There are times when Passive voice works, even in Fantasy.

Caleath was lean, wiry and reticent, with unkempt blond hair and piercing blue eyes.

Keep writing and enjoy the journey.

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