This two-part series is another slightly better than rough draft version of a chapter from my upcoming book on writing. As always, I’d love feedback.
The fundamental concepts of Be Active are twofold:
1. Subjects perform the action in a sentence.
Steve hit the tree.
The preceding sentence is written in active voice. The subject, Steve, performs an action, hitting the tree. Contrast that with a sentence written in passive voice:
The tree was hit by Steve.
2. The author chooses strong verbs that convey motion.
Steve was running toward the castle.
That sentence literally means, “Steve existed in a state of running toward the castle.” Instead of having your protagonist exist, show him doing something.
Steve ran toward the castle.
Or, even better:
Steve sprinted toward the castle.
Using active voice and strong verbs:
• Creates more tension and more interest – Readers simply are more engaged by strong, active writing.
• Conveys a direct, authoritative style – If your goal is story over style, this technique helps.
• Is clearer – Active voice requires fewer words than passive voice and delivers the intended message in a more straightforward manner. Strong, active verbs generate action and emotion more effectively than other parts of speech without the need for modifying words to paint a picture.
Be Active should be your default technique. Use it unless you have a reason not to.
Reasons not to use it:
• You desire to focus on the object rather than the subject.
Beth was attacked.
The story, presumably, is interested in Beth, not the attacker. The use of passive voice focuses attention on her.
• You seek to reduce tension.
Since active voice and strong verbs create more tension, the reverse, using passive voice and focusing on existence rather than action, serves to reduce the tension.
• You seek to slow pace.
Concise and direct writing leads to an increased pace. Using more words and focusing less on action helps to slow things down.
Stay tuned next week for the conclusion of this post on how to implement this crucial technique.