Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V for Voice

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! You can visit the Home Page HERE.

Today I want to discuss Voice and the differences in active and passive voices. If your writing is to be vigorous as well as vivid, if you want your characters to "come to life", you must make use of the active voice. The active voice occurs when the subject of the sentence performs the action described by the verb of that sentence:

She spilled the milk.

When the passive voice is used, the object of the active verb becomes the subject of the passive verb:

The milk was spilled by her.

The subject is acted upon rather than acting, and the effect is to weakin the writing and to distance the reader from the action.

The passive voice does have an important place in fiction, precisely because it expresses a sense that the character is being acted upon. If a prison guard is kicking the hero, then:

I was slammed into the wall; I was struck blindingly from behind and forced to the floor.

This appropriately carries the sense of his helplessness.

In general, however, you should try to use the active voice in all writing and to use the passive voice only when the actor is unknown or insignificant or when you want to achieve special stylistic effects like the one above.


  1. Yep, I think that while passive voice does have its place, active voice can not only liven up a story but also make it a bit more tidy for the reader.

    As I learned more about the differences between active and passive voice over the years, I realized that I used passive voice a little too often and needed to start writing in active voice, so I'm trying to do that with the short screenplay that I'm working on.

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    1. Nicole: It's easy to fall into a passive voice without even realizing it. Good luck on your screenplay and writing in an active voice.

  2. Hello, Karen! This is a terrific reminder post. Active voice is so important for making the reader feel part of the story. It helps writing flow better, too. Have a lovely week and happy A to Z!!

    1. Laura: I'm glad you could stop by! A to Z is almost over and I've gotten into the habit of posting every day. I wonder what's next?

  3. This post went over Loretta's head. She has nuthin to contribute, so she's staying quiet. ;-)

  4. Loretta: I apologize for not explaining this in more detail. I was afraid of making the post too long. Maybe we can have a discussion about it later?