Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Revising: Cutting Passive Voice and other Weak Writing Crutches

Something drove me crazy in revisions. Passive voice and weak writing. I’d already been through a few drafts and caught a lot of problems, but still it’d snuck in in a few places. Getting rid of passive voice really shines up the story and makes it much more alive – active, moving quickly. I’ve gotten rid of most of it now and I’ve already noticed it’s not as prevalent in the new novel I’m working on, so I guess something is sinking in, I hope! – ha!

Anyway, in an attempt to possibly help others during their revisions, I’m compiled a list from various sources that helped me pinpoint problem areas/searches to do in a later draft to look for passive words and other instances of plain old weak writing.


Definition of passive voice: A verb form or voice in which the grammatical subject receives the verb's action. Contrast with active voice.

Some searches to do:

Search for all forms of “to be” verb. (are, were, been, being, be, am, is, etc.)

Change the noun to a verb. The sentence, "I am a dancer," uses the passive verb "am." Change the noun "dancer" to an active verb: “I dance." Four words became two.

Look for "by." In, "The paper was written by the girl." uses the passive verb "was." A simple change to “The girl wrote the paper.” solves the sentence structure and makes it more active.

Search for sentences or phrases beginning with "there" or "it" plus a form of the verb "to be." Instead of using the passive verb "are" in a sentence such as "There are things we can do to change her mind," say, "We can change her mind." Again, the change is clear, concise and active.

Look for "ing." Example: "I am climbing," uses the passive verb "are." A stronger and more active sentence is: "I climb." Three words became two, and it moves better, stronger, more alive.

Search for "been." I found a lot of passive phrases hiding behind it. “Your work has been reviewed.” is better as, “We have reviewed your work.”

Search for "felt," "heard," etc. These aren’t as obvious, but a few snuck into my prose. “I felt my heartbeat quicken.” can simply be, “My heartbeat quickened.” OR “I heard his voice change; he was scared.” Can be, “His voice changed; he was scared.”

Search for other problem words
Sentences like: "She began walking" should be changed to "She walked." Or, "The crowd started to part." to, "The crowd parted." I guess in this case you could search for things like began, started or any other problem words/phrases like those, that you find as recurring problems in your manuscript.

These are minor examples but hopefully this compilation will prove useful to someone else during revisions. Or, at the very least it will be a good reference for me whenever I finish the current WIP!

If you have any other advice on the topic, post in the comments and I'll add to the post. Thanks!:)

*reposted from early 2010*