Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Deadly Sin Three: Passivity

Passivity is what lulls our readers to sleep—no matter how exciting our story. Here are some ways to get rid of this deadly sin.

PASSIVE SENTENCE CONSTRUCTION. Construct sentences so the subject performs the action instead of having an action performed upon the subject. This means the actor (subject) is mentioned before the action (verb), not after. Sentences that begin with “there are,” “there is,” “there was,” or “there were” are always passive. Get rid of them.

Passive: Sleeping was used by the writer to prevent exhaustion.
Active: The writer slept to prevent exhaustion.
Better: The writer slept.

Passive: A book is read by the student.
Active: The student reads a book.

Passive: There were three people in the grocery line.
Active: Three people waited in the grocery line.

PASSIVE VERBS. Watch for passive verbs, such as was, is, were, are, had, am, and so forth. Replace them with active verbs, the most active and descriptive words you can think of. Your prose will come to life.

PRESENT PARTICIPLES. Verbs ending with “ing” (and requiring a helping verb) are by nature more passive than those ending with “ed.”

Bad: She was eating breakfast.
Good: She ate eggs and toast. (Specifics never hurt!)

BONUS TIP: If you’re using a “helping” verb (was, were, is, are) there’s a good chance you’re passive.

BONUS TIP: Never start a sentence with “there was” or “there are” or any variation of these.

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