Today the Dragon Wins

"Today the Dragon Wins" offers information from Fantasy Author and Professional Editor Sandy Lender. You'll also find dragons, wizards, sorcerers, and other fantasy elements necessary for a fabulous story, if you know where to look...

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Sandy Lender is the editor of an international trade publication and the author of the fantasy novels Choices Meant for Gods and Choices Meant for Kings, available from ArcheBooks Publishing, and the series-supporting chapbook, What Choices We Made.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Grammar Guide
Active Versus Passive Voice
Use passive voice effectively

First of all, we need to make sure we’re on the same page with active versus passive voice. If you use an active verb (to use, to jump, to move, to activate, to press, etc.) in a sentence, you’re using the active voice. If a passive verb is your predicate (to be) in a sentence, you’re using the passive voice.

I watched television all day. (active, surprisingly)
I am bored with bad television programming. (passive)

The thing composition teachers, journalists, and editors like me will harp at you about all your life is the use of active voice. We want to see you use it. Why? Action brings your writing to life. Action moves your story. Action carries characters through that indispensable arc that grows them into unforgettable people long after a reader has set your short story, essay, or novel aside.

So why did I sub-title this Grammar Guide “Use Passive Voice Effectively” if my purpose is to get you to understand the importance of using active voice? Well, too much of a good thing…

If you have a two-page description of your hero running a marathon with every sentence pounding the action down your reader’s throat, imagine how tired your reader will be when he or she gets to the end of the race. She needs a break. Using a passive sentence or two here and there breaks up the sprint. The “to be” construction slows the pace, offers a pause, and just gives the reader a moment to take a breath.

The next time you sit down to write an essay for class, a short story for a writing group, or a scene in your next best-seller, keep track of how much of the text leads the reader with active sentences. If it feels overwhelming when you read it, toss a passive sentence in there and see if that doesn’t help the pacing. The passive voice is refreshing if used effectively.

(Sandy Lender, author of Choices Meant for Gods, has been an editor in the magazine publishing industry for fourteen-plus years.)
"Some days, you just want the dragon to win."

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Blogger Jeni said...

Active vs passive - that's what I was told, or led to believe, caused my getting canned at the only writing job I ever had - for all of 7 weeks that the job lasted!

I still don't "get" it fully, but I'm working on it! Maybe, one of these days, I'll manage to write something spectacular, make a mint at it and take that back to the editor of the newspaper and shove it in her face.

"There! Take that and shove it!"
(Was that active?)

7:15 AM  
Blogger Sandy Lender said...

I'm sorry to hear this story! What a shame. You should have worked for me at the magazines. I worked with my editors if they were doing something "out of whack" to help them learn-on-the-job. This is your former employer's loss, you know. Now you're going on to learn and grow, and some other employer will reap the benefits.

Babe, any sentence where the subject is doing the action (like the one where you say "I will write, make a mint, take that back to the editor") is active. And those are pretty powerful action verbs in my mind!!!

"Some days, you just want the dragon to win."

1:43 PM  

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