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Ed P Zaruk

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Active vs Passive voice
3/8/2010 8:49:24 PM


Perhaps the most common beginning writer's problem is telling rather than showing your reader the action. "Show, don't tell," is one of the basic rules of writing. Telling arises from the use, or rather, over-use of the verbs associated with 'to be.' By using is, are, was, were, and so on, you place the action at some distance from your reader. This use of passive voice could be written: He was angry. By changing eliminating the verb was, and replacing it with an action verb, the sentence then becomes active. For example: A vein stuck out in the man's neck while he shook uncontrollably.

This is the basic difference between an active sentence and a passive one. The first places you in the midst of the action. It is active all around you. The second pacifies you, simply letting you know what happened. A sentence is passive when its subject, in this case 'he,' is acted upon, 'was angry.' Changing this to an active sentence requires the subject, 'vein,' to do the action. It 'stuck out.'

If I find myself writing a sentence with a 'to be' verb, I'll try to rewrite it as an active sentence. It almost always sounds sharper and more interesting that way. By using verbs of action one can engage the reader and bring them into the scene. Now there are times when a change of pace is required. Using 'to be' verbs will slow things down and have a dampening effect on the action

If you do nothing else other than changing 'was' and 'were' to action verbs in your writing, you would go far to showing and not telling.


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More Blogs by Ed P Zaruk
•  Active vs Passive voice - Monday, March 08, 2010  

• Lessons from Clive Cussler - Tuesday, December 29, 2009
• Thriller Writers I Read - Friday, October 23, 2009
• Thriller Writers I Read - Wednesday, August 26, 2009
• Thriller Writers I Read - Wednesday, July 08, 2009
• Thriller writers I read - Sunday, May 24, 2009
• Thriller writers I read - Friday, April 10, 2009
• The Value of Womens Fiction - Wednesday, March 11, 2009
• What is Good Writing? - Saturday, February 21, 2009


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