Wednesday, 2 December 2015

IWSG: What is Passive Voice?


It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and those interested in joining in can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

We've entered the last month of the year, a time when most writers can be found tallying their NaNoWriMo word counts. But as I am sure you already know, I'd elected not to take part in last month's NaNo. Still, I usually do some tallying of my own every December, in the form of a week-long, year-in-review-themed series of posts; be sure to join me on the week of Christmas, as I recount my favorite songs, albums, movies and more.

Right. Now that the shameless plug is out of the way, we can touch upon a topic I am sure most writers are familiar with by now, namely the use of active voice vs. passive voice. I was talking with a non-writer acquaintance the other day, when the topic came up, so in a way, this post is written for her benefit, assuming she happens to stumble across my blog somehow.

While I haven't been writing any fiction books lately, the nature of my day job finds me doing other forms of writing, such as advertisement copy. And even in the realm of content writing, writers are advised to avoid using passive voice. Which begs the question, what exactly is passive voice?

Rather than lunch into a lengthy one-sided explanation, I'd like to leave the question open to any IWSG members who might be willing to contribute to a discussion on the subject matter. After all, I am far from an authority on the subject, having once been accused of using too much passive voice in some of my earlier works. So I ask again, what is passive voice, and why is it considered less engaging than active voice?

15 comments:

  1. I think it's because passive voice is more 'telling.'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, yes, show and don't tell, another one of the many mantras instilled in the minds of fledgling writers. Thanks for drawing the connection, Alex.

      Delete
  2. I think an active voice keeps the reader in the action better than a passive voice.

    I did a guest post on this very subject not too long ago, however the blog I did it on switched hosting systems and I no longer have the link. You've inspired me to repost it on my blog. I'll try to have that up on Friday, so stop by then. For now and how I remember it: in a sentence written in an active voice the subject of the sentence performs an action. Example: She was walking (passive) vs. She walked (active).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Cherie. I look forward to reading your blog post on the subject. Glad I could inspire you to repost it. :D

      Delete
  3. Simply put, passive voice is so weaker than active voice, which then leads to weaker writing, and perhaps a loss of reader attention...

    But what do I know, passive voice is one of my demons :)

    Best regards,

    Mark (IWSG co-host, author and certified slacker:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Mark. It is something I never used to give much thought to, but something that all writers (be it of novels, blog posts, emails etc.) need to be mindful of.

      Delete