Active vs. Passive

It’s the fight of the century! Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Come and see the pugilist fight that has been going on for centuries. Who will win? Come find out.

Sorry, it’s been a long day and I was being silly, but the fact remains… Active has been fighting Passive since man began writing. For beginners, let’s start of with the basics. What is the definition of both active and passive?

Active simply put is thing doing the action + verb + thing receiving the action.
Passive simply put is thing receiving the action + (be) + verb + (by) + thing doing action.

By looking at nothing else by the simply explanation, you can see that the active uses less words and is faster (hence the reason it’s called active). The passive uses more words, longer sentences, doesn’t engage the reader and can be vague.

Let’s look at an example:
Active: Bill hit the ball. We see that…. Bill (thing doing the action) hit (verb) the ball (thing receiving the action).
Passive: The ball was hit by Bill. We see that…. The ball (thing receiving the action) was (a form of be) hit (verb) by Bill (the thing doing the action).

Active moves the story along. It engages the reader. It will use showing not telling (remember from last blog?). This is important to keep the reader reading. And it can still be improved. Let’s think about it. Bill hit the ball. Boring. Bill slugged the ball. Bill ruptured the ball. Bill thwacked the ball.

Passive voice uses the ‘be’ words. Try to eliminate ‘be’ words when you can. Use active verbs for better sentence structure and easier reading. It’s okay to have some passive sentences or to use some ‘be’ words. Just be judicious with them in your writing.

Many times passive writing is used in reports and more scientific writing. But in fiction, especially in genre fiction it is best to use active sentences. Active sentences make the story interesting. Interesting stories sell better. And that is what most of us are after… to sell tons of books, make lots of money and write full time.

Active might just equal more money!

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the Author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and is an Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC.


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