image credit: pixabay
Today is my lucky day! Judy Post, a dear and wonderful writer-bud who is an awesome author of urban fantasy has answered my plea for help with passive/active voice. Please be sure to check out her links at the end of her informative, eye-opening article.
Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog, Sue!
The writers in my writers’ group are fierce about catching passive and active verbs, so when you asked me to write about active and passive voice, I thought I can do that. I get nailed on it a few times in every manuscript I read at Scribes. But then I pondered what would be the difference between active verbs and active voice, and that expanded the question.
First, let’s look at active verbs. Somewhere, in the mushy middle of every manuscript, I get lazy or mired and work so hard at keeping all of the story elements afloat and moving forward that my brain doesn’t spit out active verbs like it did at the beginning of the story. In the last fourth, the active verbs return to me, because the pace of the story is picking up and pushing me along, and my verbs try to keep pace with the increasing tension. But somewhere, inevitably, in the middle, I resort to lazy verbs: the “to be” verbs. “He was….” “They were….” “He had been…” The big no-no’s of writing. For instance, “Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird” uses an active verb. “To Kill A Mockingbird was written by Harper Lee” is passive. Active verbs are stronger and give a sense of doing.
The more specific verb you use, the better. For instance, I could say “The werewolf ran toward Reece.” Ran is an active verb. It shows action. Action builds tension and pace. But if I say, “The werewolf crouched and sprang at Reece,” I paint a more vivid picture. Vivid pictures bring your story to life. So not only do you want to use action verbs, you want to use strong, specific action verbs.
Strong, active verbs give a story momentum. They carry it forward, but there’s more to voice than verbs. For me, an active voice implies a protagonist who ACTS instead of constantly REacting. I’ve read books where the hero or heroine is acted UPON and then he/she reels from the events and just keeps repeating the process. There are times when people are victims or lost, but for an active story, the hero has to make decisions and act on them. He might fail, but if he does, he makes another game plan and tries again. I prefer strong characters over weak ones. I write urban fantasy, so my characters are more than happy to grab a sword or wield magic, but strong can mean facing life problems head-on, digging into an obstacle and working to overcome it. Life offers plenty of obstacles and challenges. An active voice, I think, means the protagonist is determined to overcome them. Every book starts when a protagonist gets tripped-up by life. Something changes in his world, and he doesn’t like it. The rest of the book tells how he deals with it and tries to fix it.
An active voice also implies persistent tension throughout the story. In my mind, conflict and tension are two separate things. A book’s conflict is something the protagonist must overcome—the book’s big question. In urban fantasy, the conflict can be a demon that’s popped up in Bay City to feast on mortals. My protagonist’s have to defeat him, and of course, demons aren’t easy to send home. My friend, Julia Donner, writes Regency romances. Romances, by definition, have to bring two people together by the end of the book. These people have to overcome obstacles to finally find a happy-ever-after. The hero’s conflict in her last book was that his father was a cruel tyrant and the hero had dyslexia—he couldn’t read. Therefore, he felt inadequate and defensive, which led to a propensity to pound anyone who made fun of him. He’d loved the heroine since he’d first seen her, but didn’t feel worthy of her. The heroine, on the other hand, was at the mercy of her unscrupulous cousin, because her parents had gone to Canada and disappeared. She needed saved. The major conflicts of the two characters led to the tensions that kept the story moving. The hero didn’t want the heroine to discover his secret. He thought he’d lose her for sure if she did. The heroine needed someone she could trust, and the hero’s evasiveness didn’t invite that. Every single scene cranked up those conflicts and tensions. Tension keeps us turning the pages to see what happens next. It doesn’t always have to be big. It can be a conversation between two people who disagree or between two people who don’t realize they DO agree. Tension just means that inner squirm, when we FEEL for the characters in each scene.
I’ve probably talked about active and passive as much as anyone wants to hear, so thanks to Sue for inviting me again. Here’s a link that gives more examples.
(and be sure to check out Judith’s links below!)