Friday, December 4, 2015

Writing in an Active Voice

Michael Abayomi's IWSG post reminded me of a guest post I did for Uncommon YA earlier this year that I thought was worth repeating here since it's a subject that comes up often in my critique groups and in workshops. If you haven't visited Michael's blog, you should check it out. He always shares insightful posts.

So, here I go again, talking about voice. But voice in a novel is so important and it's not always about dialogue and inner monologue. Today I'm talking about writing with an active voice and using strong verbs.

An active voice will help your prose come alive and have readers devouring the words in front of them, But what exactly is an active voice? Simply put: in a sentence written in an active voice the subject of the sentence performs an action.

It's the difference between saying:

She was walking.
She walked.


I have been sleeping
I slept. 

An active voice conveys a clear, concise image of what the characters are doing, and this helps readers form a picture of the scene in their mind. It tightens the writing and makes the story stronger. 

TIP: Search your work-in-progress for auxiliary verbs and replace them with active verbs.
Examples of auxiliary verbs: am, are, is, was, were, will be, has been, had been.

Now let's take our writing one step further and add strong, more expressive verbs and a little more detail to the use of an active voice to help readers paint a vivid picture of the scene in their mind and have them feeling as if they are in the middle of the action.

You could say, He pressed the button.”

But “He jabbed the button with new purpose” paints a better picture of the character's emotion and actions.

Strong verbs do a better job of captivating readers.

There's nothing wrong with He looked my way.”

But “His sapphire gaze burned through me” not only shows us what the character is doing, it conveys a sense of intensity and intimacy.

It's the difference in saying, She sat, tired.” and ”She flopped down on the threadbare sofa, exhausted.”

Strong verbs pull readers into the story and keeps them turning the pages.

TIP:  Use verbs that convey the clearest message. Examples: ate or devoured; hit or pummel.

Take the challenge: watch for places in your work-in-progress where you can turn a passive passage into an active one and where you can chop weak verbs and replace them with strong verbs. I promise you'll be happy with the results.

I'm always on the lookout for tips and advice on writing, so please feel free to share your tips in the comment section!

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Very useful and very practical information.

    Best wishes

  2. Thanks for the mention, Cherie, and for posting this on your blog. It is so good that I think it is worthy of a bookmark. :D

  3. Good examples! And yes, I read Michael's post. Voice needs to be active.

  4. Great tips! Active voice definitely keeps readers in the moment.

  5. Great post! Though sometimes my editor helps me see that "He looked my way" is better and less distracting than "His sapphire gaze burned into me." I guess we need to take into account the context (and style).

  6. Jennifer, that's true. Having too many statements like that or having them in the middle of an action scene can be distracting.