New? Begin with lesson one.
This week's lesson is similar to last week's. Telling tends to happen more in passive voice than active, and showing is most often written in active voice instead of passive. This isn't always true, of course, but there is a strong tendency for showing/active and telling/passive. The reasons for this are similar to the ones beginning writers favor telling and passive voice. It's common in everyday vernacular, mass produced picture books, and news media.
What makes a voice active or passive?
In the simplest terms, it comes down to whether the subject of the sentence is performing the action or is being acted upon. In active voice, the subject is acting. In passive voice, the subject receives an action.
Here's a simple example.
"My homework was eaten by our dog," is in passive voice. Here homework is the subject, and it is what is being acted upon, not the one performing the action.
"Our dog ate my homework," is in active voice. The dog is the subject here, and it is also the one performing the action in the sentence.
Seeing "was" before the verb in any given sentence is a common indicator the sentence is written in passive voice.
So is active voice better than passive voice? Why?
Both have their uses, but active voice works in the same way as showing in fiction. It helps draw the reader in, gives a clearer picture of what's going on, and places the characters front and center. Think about it. Would you rather read about a character who does something or just reacts to what's going on around them or happens to them?
If you find "was verb" or "had verb" showing up in your writing over and over, highlight a section and then rewrite it in active voice on a separate sheet or file. Read them side by side and see which reads better.
Okay, but how to you translate passive to active voice?
Start by moving your "actor" in front of the verb. Then rewrite the sentence to say the same thing but with the new subject performing the action. The example above has identical content. The same can be done with any sentence.
For another example: "A mess was made in the kitchen by the kids," can become, "The kids made a mess in the kitchen."
It can take a bit of thought with more complex sentences at first, but writing in active voice can become habitual fast. Once you get to the point where your natural inclination is to write in active voice, the few sentences that slip through in passive voice usually need to be written so for the flow and pacing of the text.
As with almost anything to do with creative writing, balance is key. Something written completely in active/showing can become stiff and sound unnatural just like something written totally in passive/telling might feel boring or wishy washy. Once again, reading what you've written out loud can be an effective way of telling when you've found the balance, but for now, simply keep it in mind while you continue to concentrate on drafting your story. Corrections can be made in revision and editing.
Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions or something to add, please speak up in the comments below.
Continue on to action, setting, and characterization.
A. B. England is a small business owner, home-schooling mom, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves fantasy, mythology, and all flavors of science fiction.
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