Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Was

Something I aim to avoid in my writing (at all costs) is usage of the passive voice. It can sneak into writing and can create unnecessary distance between the reader and the MS. Not that it's wrong to use a passive versus an active voice (there are certainly situations where the passive voice is preferred - like scientific writing), but in general, text written in the passive voice can sound awkward and be more difficult to read than text written in the active voice (Storymill Publishing).

Usually, the passive voice is easy to spot - just do a search for every instance of "was" in your manuscript. Of course, "was" doesn't always indicate the passive voice. Sometimes "was" is just the simple past. Then again, any time I write something along the lines of, "She was walking", I like to take a second look to see if I can't change it to "She walked". So the "was" search helps me to revise on two levels.

Here are some helpful links with detailed explanations and examples of the passive voice:
The Writing Center
The Writer's Handbook
Passive Voice

Do you ever find that you've written a sentence or two in the passive voice by mistake? Do you have any tips or tricks for catching these instances during revisions?


  1. I could't believe how many times I used "was". It took a loooong time to edit the majority out.

  2. I think it's important to be super-aware of passive voice so you can know when to use it effectively--which does happen! Ursula LeGuin gave a great run-down in her book "Steering the Craft," which I highly recommend.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation :) And I agree - there are some cases where it makes sense to use passive voice to emphasize one thing over another - but, I haven't yet come across the right place to do that in my own writing.

  3. Voice is a tough one, it really is. Love the tip for was-searching. Shall give it a go next time out!

  4. Thanks for joining :) And glad you found the tip useful!