Active Voice or Passive Voice? What’s the Difference?

What is meant by Active or Passive voice?

Active voice is clear and direct. It stamps out what is happening in a dynamic way. It tells you who or what is doing the action (subject) and who or what they are doing it to (object).

Passive voice can be clear as to what is happening to the subject but usually sounds weaker as a statement. It loses the strength you want to give to your words (and strength in your words is important when you are writing for others).

Let’s take a few examples to show you what I mean.

Active Voice

John (subject doing the action) shouted at David (object receiving the action).

Stephen made the bread.

These are direct statements and have gravitas. Putting the same actions into the passive voice loses some of the impact and makes the sentence weaker.

Passive voice

David (subject receiving the action) was shouted (verb) at by John (object doing the action).

The bread was made by Stephen.

The active voice in the examples above are far stronger in conveying what is happening than the passive voice. Active voice has more immediacy.

You can check on whether a statement is in the passive voice if it has a form of be preceding the verb: is, was, were, had, will, are all variants of be. If one of these variants isn’t present then you have the active voice.

Comparisons

The sausages were cooked by Ben and Ella vs Ben and Ella cooked the sausages.

The cake had all been eaten by Joe vs Joe ate all the cake.

The entire wall was knocked down by the bulldozer vs The bulldozer knocked down the entire wall.

Which version of the above sounds better to you?

Conclusion

When you’re writing a story you need to be dynamic. That means using the active voice as much as you can. There is a place for passive voice but I’d advise you to restrict it as much as you can. And even when you think you are justified in using it see whether you can rewrite the statement in the active voice and whether it makes a difference to how you want to say it.

Writing Prompt: A Samurai Warrior

A Samurai Warrior works as a waiter in a Mexican restaurant in a small town in Essex. Why is he there in such an unlikely place and in such an unlikely job?

From whose point of view are you going to write the story?

Fancy you can do it in 500 words? Go on, give it a go.

Feel a poem coming on? Or a song?

Want to try writing it in dialogue only?

No rules. How you write and what you write is entirely up to you.

The important thing … is to WRITE.

The eyes have it when it comes to conveying complex mental states

Our facial expressions give away more of what we’re thinking than we thought. New research shows that people’s eyes, in particular, are a dead giveaway.

The function behind a facial expression mirrors the person’s emotional state. So if someone is narrowing their eyes as if they are scrutinising something they are likely to be feeling thoughtful; wondering about something. If you feel as though you are being scrutinised then you probably are.

In Psychological Science we read that:

The research reveals, for example, that people consistently associate narrowed eyes – which can enhance visual discrimination – with discrimination-related emotions including disgust and suspicion.

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Putting Mud on the Boots of my Characters

bootsI wrote a story a while back about a couple going through the break-up of their marriage. I wanted dialogue to tell most of the tale rather than narrative.

As I write the characters into existence I felt as though I knew them and could almost feel what they were going through. It gave me the confidence to write strong dialogue because I just knew what they would be saying to each other.

I could feel what they were feeling; the hesitation in parting, the longing for each other and what they once had, the distance that had grown around them. This gave me the confidence to describe their internal world in ways that showed you, through their actions and body language, what was going on rather than telling you. It makes it more interesting to the reader to get to know your characters themselves. This is how we do it in real life; we all make judgements about people without being told about them by someone else.

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What Has It Got In Its Pocketses?

Gollum famously spoke these words in Lord of the Rings while looking for the One Ring, which Bilbo – and then Frodo – carried with him.

The ring gave powers to the wearer and spoke volumes about the person who carried it. It was one of the defining things about the characters and told of their quest as well as their character and motives.

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Show, Don’t Tell – Writing On The Right Side Of The Brain


negative_space.1There is a book entitled, ‘The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’, which teaches you to see in a different way.

Where drawing is concerned we often draw what we think we see (left brain) rather than what we can actually see (right brain).

For example, one of the exercises asks you to draw the spaces around and between the object you want to draw (negative space) rather than trying to draw the thing itself.

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How observant are you? Using observation in story writing.

How observant are you?

Do you register faint changes in facial expressions? Do you notice the body language as one person passes something to another? Do you recognise the real meaning in people’s tone of voice?

These are all elements you can write into your story to make the characters, and what they do, more believable.

People watching

People watching is a great way to build up a resource to draw on.

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Descriptive Writing – Layering your imagery

Dear Photograph - click to go to websiteI wanted to follow up from my post about a website called: Dear Photograph.

The photographs on the website conjure up some brilliant imagery of layering story.

The concept behind it is simple: take an old photograph of people you know and hold it up against the original backdrop where it was taken and photograph it so that past and present blend into one photograph.

The results are very poignant.  Continue reading