Active vs Passive

[Writer’s Stuff]

Verbs are a powerful tool. They may count as the number one strongest tool in your toolkit.

Besides a few rare situations, verbs are required for writing. (Generally, I’d say poetry is one of the few times verbs can be completely forgone. And that’s not all poetry, all the time.)

So many people suggest passive voice is some sort of demon you must exorcise from your writing. I’m here to say, don’t do that.

Please do not remove all forms of passive writing.

Why do I bring up verbs and passive sentences in the same post? Because they connect.

Passive vs active depends on your verb.

In English- and most of the Latin languages- ‘to be’ is fall back verb. In most languages, ‘to be’ is the only verb that can be assumed to be present even when it’s not.

Much like ‘the’, ‘to be’ isn’t really important. It’s just there to bridge the gaps in English. Removing it wouldn’t do much to the sentence.

‘To be’ is how to make a sentence passive.

The ‘kill the passive’ vibe you get from writers are ones who go excess on description. (They should be wary of purple prose.) But when it comes to passive description, it can come off as dull and boring.

The wall is blue. The paint is peeling. There is a large fireplace, but it looks unused.

Boring. Dull. Lifeless.

Description can be done in such a way that isn’t passive.You can have the characters interact with the items around them or create a story about the items.

Ever walked into a room where it looks like the furniture is in a stationary dance?

I slowly open my eyes. Books. So many books. In every direction. On every wall. Bookcases dance about the room. Not literally, but they seem to be in a stationary dance. Tables with chairs are ready for me just spend time here. Soft comfortable chairs for fiction reading. Hard wooden ones for more knowledge gaining. “It’s…” What word can even describe what this is? This beauty. This collection. “I…”

“Love it? Adore it? Think I should’ve aimed a little lower.” Verde presses me to look about the room.

Dragon Rider 8th Grade

(My writing style ends up with sentence fragments. It’s part of my ADHD injecting itself into my work. And why I’d suggest an ND would prefer it.)

The description “Bookcases dance about the room” suggests something very clear.

Metaphors and similes can really boost up description without it being bland and lifeless.


Back to topic: passive and active.

A passive statement is when the object is more the star of the sentence. Any sentence can be made into a passive. Not every one can be made into an active.

If the subject is doing the action, it’s an active sentence. The statement is active.

If the subject of the sentence is having the action done to them, it’s passive. There are cases where it’s important to write that way.

People use it to place importance on the object. Like in a research paper, I will write far more passive statements than in a typical writing. Because I need to focus on the research topic. It will create a lot of passive statements. Not to mention passive statements are one of the ways to easily remove ‘I’ and ‘you’ statements that normally weaken a research paper or essay.

I enjoy reading. = Active.
Reading is enjoyable. = Passive.

The second can be used when reading is the important note. It ends up being a stronger sentence in general.

The stronger the action word, the verb, the better the sentence normally becomes.

Passive slow down passages. Active can speed them up. Just like longer sentences slow down reading and scenes. While short sentences- including fragments- speed things up.

Every piece of writing has it’s place.

Including passive writing.

How often do I think passive writing should appear?

Outside of the bonuses passive offers, I’d probably suggest no more than one in ten sentences or once every few paragraphs. Most of fiction writing should be active. But if you notice excess pronoun use or an item that needs more prominence, please use passive more. It will balance the writing. There is no set number.


Let me know if this isn’t clear. I think my ADHD really impacted this writing.

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