I’ve done quite a bit of editing lately and discovered that aspiring writers possess some of the same problems, in particular, overuse of passive voice.

Let’s refresh our third grade English class: the verb “to be” is a state of being verb, meaning it’s passive voice. Here are the forms of “to be”–am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been. If you see one of those words used alone or in conjunction with another verb, then writer is using passive voice.


Passive voice works particularly well for declarative statements: “I think, therefore I am.” It does not advance action. In fact, passive voice slows pacing down. It makes the story drag.

So, how do you punch it up and get the juices flowing? Use active voice.

Read the following paragraph from a post-apocalyptic story I started editing:

Sambol’s mother, Moranta, had a very strict personality in regard to; time management, cleanliness and honesty. But in the end she was very kind as well as a thoughtful being. At the moment her son rushed through streets and thin alleys, to make it home on time. Now that the food reserve was decreasing, food rationing was more important, hence the new scheme gave allowance for only breakfast in the morning along with dinner in the evening. Especially with the land now barren there was no hope for rehabilitation.

Going beyond the punctuation errors, let’s tighten and strengthen the paragraph and eliminate what we really don’t need:

Sambol rushed home. His mother, Moranta, held to strict standards with regard to time management, cleanliness, and honesty. The decrease in the food reserve mandated food rationing which allowed for only two meals daily. The barren lands offered no hope for rehabilitation.

So, it’s not a literary masterpiece, but it provides the necessary information in a succinct manner without once using a state-of-being verb. More than that, it moves.

Use of active voice is a key tenet of the “show, don’t tell” philosophy of good storytelling. Look at what you write and then ask yourself, “How can I improve that?” Or better yet, hire me to improve it.