by Lynn Hobbs
Years ago I began attending writing workshops. My first encounter with passive voice left me undecided.
Did I care about passive voice? Was this merely someone’s preference in writing? What did it matter, anyway?
Was this something I’d eventually learn through trial and error?
It certainly didn’t interfere with the show don’t tell method of writing. Or did it?
I was not a learned writer at the time. I was an avid reader. Once I was knee deep into a story, I didn’t care about adverbs, passive voice, or justified margins. I knew a good book when I read one, and I read it as fast as I could. I recommended the book to others, gave a review on Amazon, and waited for more books from the author. I was a happy reader. No knowledge of don’t end a sentence in a preposition, or don’t use an exclamation mark but, at the most, three times in one book.
Don’t, don’t, don’t was jotted in my notes more than any other word.
Naturally, I decided it must be a personal preference of the workshop speakers not to use passive voice. I still couldn’t understand what difference it made in the story.
As an author, I continued to grow, learning more at writing workshops, and kept an open mind.
The following year, I attended an online workshop…from a well-known author. His first topic was not to use passive voice.
I was shocked. Hmm, must be something to it, after all.
I suddenly had my ah-ha moment!
Mind-boggling. It had nothing to do with narrative. I realized it was more important to dialogue.
If you write, “I was hurrying into the store;” you are telling not showing. “I was” is passive voice. If you write, “I parked my car in the closest parking spot. Locking it, I ran to the store minutes before they closed.” Showing is not in passive voice.
Readers relate to more vivid descriptions. They want to see it in their mind through imagination. A short sketch is all that is required. Yes, you need something to propel your story forward, but not drag it into an unnecessary paragraph with flowering words. Brief, and to the point.
I finally got it.
Here are examples:
1. Bob was exhausted. (Telling: Bob was exhausted, and written in passive voice.)
2. Bob yawned, and closed his eyes as he leaned back in the recliner. (Showing: how Bob is exhausted, and not written in passive voice.)
The reader will enjoy the second version as it will allow them to picture the scene for themselves.
1. I had to drive to Houston, Texas for a job interview. (Telling, and written in passive voice.)
2. Waking earlier than normal, I splashed cold water on my face, drank hot coffee, and drove alert to Houston, Texas for my job interview. (Showing, and not written in passive voice.)
Learning the craft of writing is a daily process.
Enjoy, and happy writing!
Lynn Hobbs is the author of the Running Forward Series: Sin, Secrets, and Salvation, River Town, and Hidden Creek, and won 1st place Religious Fiction in 2013, 2014 and 2015 by Texas Association of Authors. She is also the author of Lillie, A Motherless Child won 1st place Biography 2016, TAA, and the American Neighborhood Series: Eyes of a Neighbor. Visit Lynn on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.