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 Post subject: Galanity's Grammar: Active vs Passive voice
PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 8:23 pm 
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Galanity's Grammar: Active vs. Passive voice

Active voice? Passive voice? Does that mean speaking while exercising vs loafing around? Hardly. The “voice” isn't characters speaking, but how sentences are constructed. Changing passive to active makes sentences come alive, jump off the page, and grab the reader's attention.

OK, maybe that was a little over the top. Let's go back to the basics: What does active or passive voice mean?

In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. “The boy threw the ball.” Passive voice is the reverse; the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. “The ball was thrown by the boy.”

Wonderful, now we know what each one is. But that's minor knowledge. Better is knowing which one to use, and when.

The general rule: Write in active voice whenever possible.

Of course, as with every English rule, there are exceptions to the rule. Here are a few cases where passive is preferred.

If the subject is unknown or irrelevant, passive is better. If, for example, the story is about a mysterious stone being stolen, passive is best. “The stone was stolen.” Active would be “Someone stole the stone.” With passive, the focus is on the stone, and the fact that it was stolen. Active puts attention on the unknown person who stole the stone.

Similarly, a report for the local newspaper's crime beat might best be passive. “The store was robbed” vs. “Unknown persons robbed the store.”

Scientific papers are often written in passive voice, but since this is a fantasy forum, I won't discuss them in detail.

Writing in active voice pumps more energy into writing, and converting passive to active often shortens sentences, resulting in tighter writing. Check your stories, see if they are overly passive. You might be surprised.

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