When you write a sentence, it can either be written in the passive voice or the active voice.
* The active voice describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. For example, ‘Brian replaced the flat tyre’.
* The passive voice describes a sentence where the subject is acted upon by the verb. For instance, ‘The flat tyre was replaced by Brian’.
In most cases, writing sentences in a passive voice is discouraged because it can obscure the subject of the sentence, and mislead the reader. It also regularly creates a wordy and clumsy sentence construction.
Defining Passive Voice
Every sentence contains, at a minimum, a subject and an action. The subject is the person or thing the sentence is about, and the action is what the subject is doing.
When the sentence is in the active voice, the subject is doing the action, and the subject typically arises before the action in the sentence. For example:
* I run. I is the subject. Run is the action. The subject doing the action appears before the action, so it is clear to the reader who is doing what.
When a sentence is in a passive voice, the subject is being acted upon by the verb, and the subject usually appears after the action. In an example:
* Running is something I do. Here, the action is Running, and the subject is I. The sentence is in a passive voice because the person doing the action (I) is not introduced until after the action.
Sometimes sentences also contain objects – or the thing being acted upon. This can make it more difficult to define whether the sentence is in a passive voice. For example, here is a sentence in an active voice:
* Philip hits the ball. ‘Philip’ is the subject. ‘Hits’ is the action. So the ‘ball’ is the object.
That same sentence in passive voice reads:
* The ball is hit by Philip.
* The ball is the object – which is not the subject of the sentence because the ball is not doing the action. Therefore, it should be after the subject (Philip)
Tips to Recognise the Passive Voice
Often a sentence in passive voice does not inevitably sound “incorrect” or wordy. However, it is still proper to write in active voice when possible.
To recognise that a sentence is in a passive voice, watch out for these keywords:
* Has been
* Have been
* Will be
Once, I wrote the first draft of a short story that stank so bad; I had to open up a window while reading it.
I felt like ripping it up or pressing delete and then beginning again.
I spent a long time to discover the job of your first draft is to be, and it’s ok if your writing is lousy and unedited.
It’s a good thing that my first drafts are for me alone, and yours should be too.
You will sit down to write the first draft; you will likely lack self-confidence or feel indifferent to what you’re about to make.
You may likely feel that you’re writing and feeling stupid.
Most successful authors seldom experience a white-hot flash while working on their first drafts. A lot of writers question themselves and think about pressing delete.
They don’t do that though.
Alternatively, there’s a determined (and coffee caffeinated) person plugging away at his or her manuscript one word at a time, looking at their word-count and all the while thinking:
“It’ll do for now”, “I’m almost there”, “I can fix this later.”
You can fix it later too, but wait, you’ve got to finish your first draft.
You’ve got to reach the end and stop reorganising your outline or having the ‘Shiny new Idea syndrome’.
I used to show my early drafts of my short stories to friends and family, and they’d tell me:
“It’s great Phil; this is outstanding work.”
And I’m like, “Oh wow, thanks. Writing a book is going to be a career move.”
Their kind feedback wasn’t practical, and honestly; useless.
The first time I received a response from an actual professional, like a Judge in a competition or a tutor on a writing course, I was flooded with things wrong with the story structure and grammar.
This feedback is not intended as a disparagement but as assistance in order to become better and achieve publication.
Never give your work to friends or family to critique as their empathy will cloud their efforts to find problems.
I’d written and published four journal papers, a few conference papers and a PhD Thesis containing forty thousand words, but I still had a lot to learn about writing fiction and a long novel.
I hadn’t tried to find some time outside of work to write every day, as other things were consuming my needed time.
I told myself my novel would keep until tomorrow and that I could write at the weekend when the time was less important.
When I finally had the guts to sit down in front of the blank page and do my work, I could barely remember where I left off, as I didn’t know about outlines and I was just pantsing the story.
It took too long to pick up from where I left off the previous time. If I missed a weekend writing session because of, unknown things always interrupt, that meant I went an entire week without writing my novel.
I needed a daily writing routine that I could fit in around my job and my lifestyle, but I didn’t have that essential structure implemented in my life.
Then, along comes a short story competition that is inexpensive to enter and you get feedback from the judges. I had to write a short story limited to 1500 words about one person that was the only one to see an alien. I found the contest, entered it and realised I only had one week to find a scenario and write the first draft so it could be submitted for a week’s workshop where myself and the other contestants would read each others story and critique. It took hard work to generate a story and edit, critique and submit. If I had been writing every day, then things would have been more natural and fluid in reading my work. The more you do something, the more it becomes natural.
I’ve often woken up, checked email, bought books on Amazon, phoned the Gas and Electricity company about my bill, organised meetings, and arranged everything else but write 500-1000 words wasn’t on my list.
If I’m lucky, I’ll hold an hour left to write just a little.
So, I tried looking at myself in the mirror and telling myself, ‘Don’t be lazy, just work harder’.
Self-talk is kind, here’s the stark, painful truth:
When I put writing last, it’s unlikely to happen at all.
It has taken me a year to comprehend that when I’m writing a book, it’s the most critical thing I need to do every day (apart from looking after myself).
It’s my job to reduce interruptions and distractions like the internet and put writing first.
Before some email.
Before the social media sites.
Before the news.
And sometimes before a breakfast meal.
When was the last time you set writing first?
With non-fiction books then the learning and expressing the subject of your manuscript would be essential. A fiction book is more or less the same. Wheather it’s in present-day or a few hundred years ago or in the future, then you need to be aware of currency, eating and drinking material. Off-world Sci-fi or fantasy also needs to be checked as you don’t want characters in a fictional world going for a chicken evening meal and paying for it in Dollars. You must spend time reading outside of your comfort zone, reading the work of authors you admire and the novels of authors you detest.
You must take notes, write down and learn to arrange your ideas before you start your book. I was asked on a writing course to study poetry. My first thoughts were, “Yuck, I hate poetry and will never write any.” But, I considered Shakespeare and looked into his work and discovered he was the Iambic Pentameter master (which is poetry and sonnet material), and that may be a reason his work is still loved 400 years after his death.
If you fail to feed your mind, then don’t expect it to serve you quality ideas when you next sit down in front of the blank page.
1. It’s so Easy to Talk About Writing a Book, But…
When I was at University, I used to read a lot of Raymond Chandler and Tom Clancy books about Philip Marlowe and Jack Ryan. I even went to see The Hunt for Red October at the cinema. I recently read Andy Weir’s The Martian and saw the movie, but the novel can set you in reality, and the film can only show you things that the filmmakers can provide. The one-third gravity being an example. I then saw Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit at the movies and thought as that was Jack Ryan I’m sure Tom Clancy wrote a novel. He didn’t as he died before that story had begun.
I started with an undercover agent in Russia, who was about to get instructions on a case. I did not plan or outline anything. The thought just occurred to me, so I began the novel, as I was Pantsing it. I finished the opening scene and then thought, “What happens now?” There is more to creating a story that imagination can give you in one moment, and it stopped there. What followed was a year and a half of deciding which type of outline and which sub-genre of crime fiction in which to write.