Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stephen King Moment #2-Passive Verbs

In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King devotes much needed time to one of his biggest pet peeves, passive verbs. I have to admit, when I began writing I didn't give much thought to this issue of active and passive verbs. I didn't even know what they were. Now I have to agree with King, on this issue. Using active verbs make a piece so much stronger.

"Verbs come in two types," says King, "active and passive. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence. The subject is letting it happen. You should avoid passive tense."

The first step is to get rid of that pesky "was" whenever possible. If you can do that, your writing will instantly be stronger.

King shares his theory about why so many writers are attracted to passive verbs. "I think timid writers like them for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. There is no troublesome action to contend with...I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority..."

"The timid writes The meeting will be held at seven o'clock because that somehow says to him, 'Put it this way and people will believe you really know.' Purge this quisling thought. Don't be a muggle! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin and put that meeting in charge! Write The meeting's at seven."

Here are some other examples he shares:

Passive: The body was carried from the kitchen and placed on the parlor sofa.
Active: Freddy and Myra carried the body out of the kitchen and laid it on the parlor sofa.

Passive: My first kiss will always be recalled by me as how my romance with Shayna was begun.
Active: My romance with Shayna began with our first kiss. I'll never forget it.

Look back over your own writing to see if you can find examples of passive voice. You can also use your find function (Ctrl F) to search a document. Type in "was" and see what comes up. If you do find anything, change it to be more active.

For more examples of passive and active voice you can read a previous blog post I wrote.

Happy Active Writing!


Rebecca said...

I'll be rethinking passive verbs now!

On writing is a very good book, by the way.

AmberInGlass said...

Great blog. Thanks for sharing this one. I'll be keeping my eyes open!

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that this is a very good book recommendation. NO, WAIT...This is a great book recommendation. See, I'm already learning to omit the pesky passives! Now, off to buy Mr. King's book.


Kerrie said...


Let me know what you think of the book.

Name: Luana Krause said...

I'm glad to see your post about King's book. I bought it years ago and it's a vital resource in my library. I refer to it often. I'm a huge fan of King...not because of his genre (horror), but because of his skill as a writer. He always draws me in and compels me to keep turning the pages to see what happens next. He is also brilliant at character development. Long Live the King!

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