Passive Plots (and How to Avoid Them) *Wordcraft and Scribery*

December 22, 2017

 

"You use too much Passive Voice!" 

 

If this sounds familiar, congratulations! You're a writer, Harry.

 

Welcome to another episode of:

 

Ellie Raine's School of Wordcraft and Scribery! 

 

We're all guilty of using passive voice at some point or another, so if you've been told the above statement, don't panic! Or, erm, do panic? Whatever motivates you to Avada Kedavra that junk out as fast as possible.

 

But don't sweat it too much, okay? We've all been there, even the most successful, experienced and renowned writers are subject to succumb to it (sometimes intentionally, when it's a segway sequence that has zero importance to the plot and would otherwise be quite boring). 

 

So, how do you spot passive voice? Well, one must first understand what passive voice is.The first type of passive voice is in regards to sentence structure. For example:

 

The dress was worn by the girl.

And

The dress had been worn by the girl.

 

These are passive sentences, defined as when the subject of the sentence is acted on the verb.  Compare these to their active sister:

 

The girl wore the dress.

 

Straight to the point, no zig-zagging and arduous paths to reach the point of the sentence.

 

Of course, these are only grammatical examples. What writers must eventually learn is that there are covert, passive-active sentences (Yes, I know it's not a real term. This is my own name for when an active sentence is encumbered with extra words such as was and had when they're not needed) which may be grammatically correct, but can be considered 'cluttered' and 'bulky'. It's an editor's job to cut out the clutter and trim the fat, but that's no excuse for a writer to neglect trimming it themselves as much as they can before sending it out. An example of these passive-active sentences is such:

 

He had gone to the store. (Past Perfect)

And

He was going to the store. (Past Progressive)

 

Both are active sentences, and while they're correct and have their uses in your novel where needed, there may be times when you want to trim these down to their more simple forms:

 

He went to the store. (Simple Past)

 

A simple, easy change, but this difference cut out a word--which is a good thing (trust me). More efficient, more punctual and it gets to the bloody point. Your editors will typically alert you to these clutter words if they're not needed, but why make it harder on them, yeah? Comb through your manuscript and eliminate these passive sentences as much as you can before sending it out. Your editor will thank you, I promise.

 

**Note: This