Active Characters Make Better Fiction
Let’s take a cue from the Food Network and get visceral. I’m talking guts. When it comes to food and cooking, there is movement. There is life and death. There is action.
Stuff the turkey! Bone the fish! Chop the meat! Pound the chicken!
It’s not a passive thing. And your writing shouldn’t be either.
Active voice has the subject doing something or causing an effect. Passive voice indicates the subject is being acted upon, having something done to it or receiving an effect. As a general rule, writing is more interesting and engaging when it’s active.
Here are some side by side comparisons of how using active voice can improve your writing:
Passive: “The bronco was roped by a leathery cowboy. It was hog-tied and left laying in the dust.”
Active: “The leathery cowboy roped the bronco with skill. Almost as quickly, the man hog-tied the young bronc and tossed him down in the dust.”
Passive: “The child was cut by a piece of glass found laying in a ditch that had been placed there by a long-dead tornado.”
Active: “A tornado flung the piece of glass into the ditch and left it waiting. It tore into the child’s hand before the sun could illuminate its sinister edge.”
Passive: “The kittens were amused by the ball. The kittens were warmed by the sun and were happy.”
Active: “The ball amused the kittens and they tackled it with the verve of youth and the focus of hunters.”
Using a passive voice is one of the most common writing mistakes. It’s a natural comfort zone after years and years of scholastic encouragement in this direction.
But it’s that comfort zone that puts your reader in the position of feeling like something is being explained to him versus an experience where the words launch him into living something new.
A good way to practice using active voice is to go over a page of your writing and check to see whether your subject is doing the action or having the action done to them. Change any sentences where the subject is receiving the action to active voice. Then review it again to see if you can inject any more life and action into your phrasing.
This will help give you a fresh perspective on your work and more engaging subject matter.