Writing Craft 101: Active Sentences

Using active sentences instead of passive sentences is a technique that will elevate your writing to a much more advanced level. This concept has to do with the active voice and the passive voice in grammar.

As you might guess, as in many other aspects of life, being active in writing is better than being passive. “Active sentences” is another grammar term, having to do with active voice and passive voice. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence is doing whatever is being done in the sentence. In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon by the verb.

To put it simply, active = doing, passive = being done.

For example: “Dr. Jekyll consumed the potion,” vs. “The potion was consumed by Dr. Jekyll.”

You’ll often in writing circles to avoid using the word “was” or any other form of the “to be” verb.

Notice the difference in this story:

 

Passive: She was running through the forest as fast as she could. Her legs were getting tired, but she couldn’t stop. The beast was after her. Soon, she’d be at the village, and then she would be safe.

Active: She ran through the forest. Her legs burned, muscles throbbing, but she couldn’t stop. The beast behind her growled. She only had to push on for a few more steps. Safety lay at the village, just ahead.

 

See how much more engaging the second version is? They use the exact same number of words, but one is infinitely more interesting to read.

As with all of these “rules” for writing, there is a time and a place for passive writing. Sometimes it’s just more concise. Not every sentence needs to be a poetic masterpiece. Depending on what your paragraph or chapter is trying to accomplish, sometimes, “It was hot,” is better than, “the blazing sun scorched him as soon as he stepped outside.” Sometimes the passive voice works.

But, as a general rule, writing active sentences is more engaging, more interesting, and more professional than writing in the passive voice.

 

 

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