• Jabe Stafford

Write Good: Why To Avoid Passive Voice

Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog

Avoid Passive Voice

There’s a lot of shiddy things going on in the world right now.

Don’t let it get you down though. There’s also one gi-freakin’-normous trick you can use to see truth, be more positive, and give yourself the courage to face the scary and the hate.

Passive voice is guilty of making a lot of the atrocities people are committing look like minor things. Same way people in power say shiz like, “Mistakes were made” or “Thoughts and prayers” or other utterly unhelpful bilge.

Oh, you can tell I was pissed when I wrote this? Good.

‘Cause we gotta be better. Not later. Not someone else. Now. Us.

If you’re a writer, gobble up this crash course on recognizing passive voice so you can avoid using it in your own storytelling. It’ll give your writing a better hook and a better sense of confidence.

If you’re a resister, this’ll learn ya how to see through some media/reporting bullshit. And by that, I mean when anyone tries to downplay violence or racist actions by writing the headline or article in passive voice to make it seem not-so-bad. Like everything’s ok. Like you can just go about your business because the heinous crap can be swept under the rug. By zombies.

See what that was there? Passive voice.

A little guidance for writers first. If you can replace the words after, “verbed by” with the word, “zombies,” then the sentence is in passive voice. A stronger hook for readers is to eliminate passive voice. IE: “His face was eaten by zombies” is less of a hook than, “Zombies ate his face.”

There. That’s the trick.

Some of you may have heard it before. If so, rock on. Keep using it.

If not, then here’s what passive voice does to your writing and why you should eliminate that bs. It makes all actions sound like foregone conclusions or like bad history book entries. You know the ones. The ones you slept through in history class in high school.

Passive voice is also terrible for attention-grabbing. Can you imagine how boring an erotica book would be written in passive voice? “He was shoved to the bed by the woman who just slid out of her fishnets” feels like a friggin’ shopping list or a bad turn-based RPG announcing the moves the characters do. “She slid out of her fishnets and shoved him to the bed” is much more active. It’s moment-by-moment storytelling. Every scintillating second of it. Be it two men, two women, or one of each, or multiples, passive voice would bring the fun to a grinding halt. And no one wants that.

A little heads-up for resisters next. “Shot by officers” or “Tear gas was used to disperse crowds” are friggin’ passive voice.

There’s a reason the people who write those headlines use it. Passive voice makes those headlines seem like all accountability and agency for one’s actions are gone. Like they’re not part of the equation. “A gun was fired.” “Information was revealed.” None of these actions are the kinds of actions one just wanders into, and sweeping them under the rug is exactly what the writers of passive voice in the news want.

Ready for that gi-freakin’-normous trick to reveal truth and stay positive?

Look at the results of the words and actions in order to see clearer.

Writers: Look at what a character’s dialogue or motions DO. If they DO something that you as the writer weren’t intending, then you know you need to fix it. If they DO more than you expected, or if they DO exactly what you wanted as the author, then you know you hit the nail on the head.

Resisters: Look at what those headlines DO. Gaze deep into the things the actions of those in power DO. What’s the effect of the thing they did? What did it result in? This is why you can’t always trust words or surface-level actions. Appearing to give a shit, but still doing things that result in harm and division and negativity? Yeah. See through that shiz.

Soapbox moment over.

Hope this helps you grow your writing!

And to those who’ve seen me go soapbox-mode, I’m back. I missed you too. Let’s do this thing.