Passive Voice Part 2

Posted by on Jan 6, 2015 in Writing | 0 comments

I must apologize, I missed the Monday deadline. However, I did write that sentence in active voice. As to the previous week’s paragraph, we’re going to dissect it here:

Her eyes followed him as the gun was pointed at her chest. The chair across from her was sat on by the masked man and a chuckle erupted from his throat. It was obvious he thought the upper hand was his. She tried to pull at the duct tape wrapped around her wrists, but was unsuccessful. Her shoes were untied and her head ached. To top that off, the gun was put aside by the grease ball in front of her and suddenly, his hands were around her neck. Her breath was constricted and the struggling commenced. 

The essence of passive versus active voice is whether the character interacts or the action is done to the character. There are many cases where passive voice is acceptable, most notably in dialogue, because that’s how we speak. Let’s start with the first sentence: Her eyes followed him as the gun was pointed at her chest.

This could easily be written as: She looked at him, then at the gun he pointed at her chest. Instead of allowing her eyes to be the objects, we are bringing the character into the scene and making her look at both the man and the gun. The man is now active as well because he’s pointing the gun at her chest instead of the gun being pointed at her by some unseen force.

Next sentence: The chair across from her was sat on by the masked man and a chuckle erupted from his throat. Not only is this passive, it’s awkward and long. We could shorten this sentence and turn it into a less awkward situation. The masked man chuckled as he sat in the chair across from her.

I put the next sentence in for two reasons: First, it’s passive, second, it’s something most writers, even experienced ones, catch themselves doing.  It was obvious he thought the upper hand was his. If something is obvious, then we don’t need to write it. If it’s not obvious, we need to show the actions that will make it obvious to the reader. I’m not going to rewrite this sentence, but I will suggest if there’s something that is obvious, then delete the sentence and try to make it obvious by showing the character’s actions.

She tried to pull at the duct tape wrapped around her wrists, but was unsuccessful. This sentence is fine. It is active, she’s actively trying to pull at the restraints.

Her shoes were untied and her head ached. This is passive. However, since she did not do the action, and I wanted to show that it was already done to her, I would leave this sentence as is. This would be one of the few times outside of dialogue that I would allow a passive sentence to stay.

To top that off, the gun was put aside by the grease ball in front of her and suddenly, his hands were around her neck. This is one of the worst passive sentences in the paragraph. In a book that requires action, and this passage would suggest the book is, at the very least, an action story, if not a murder mystery or adventure story, this sentence is a crime. Suddenly, the grease ball put aside his gun and lunged at her, closing his beefy hands around her neck. This would be a much better sentence.

Now, for the challenge. In the comments below, rewrite your own version of the final sentence. Show me her actions as well as his, and show me how she’s feeling.

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