In general, passive voice is to be avoided.
Haha, did you see what I did there?
Active voice is a lot more fun to read. It’s the difference between:
- The building was blown up by a bomb. (Passive voice)
- The building blew up. (Active voice)
But passive voice has its uses, primarily in that it doesn’t name names:
- I shot him. (Active voice, clearly designating responsibility)
- He became shot. (Passive voice, implying that he carelessly got in front of a gun that was firing)
(I lifted that example from Anita Loos’ excellent novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)
Sometimes you fall into the habit of writing in passive voice and have trouble recognizing when you’re doing it. It’s not that this makes you a bad writer. It just means nobody wants to read your stuff.
If you’re not sure whether you’re using passive voice or not, my editor friend taught me an easy little reminder which she stole from somebody else. (Which was stolen from someone else, I mean).
The sentence is passive voice if you can add “… by zombies” to the end of it.
My family, being the wordy nerdy type of people, latched onto this little device enthusiastically. All of a sudden, our household is experiencing a small zombie apocalypse.
- The last chocolate chip cookies were eaten… by zombies.
- The dishwasher wasn’t unloaded today… by zombies.
- Ranger and Gamerboy were wrestling and Ranger got kneed in the head… by zombies.
- The rabbit got let out of his cage… by zombies.
- The rabbit got fed a pretzel… by zombies.
- DJ’s towel got used (by zombies) because SJ’s towel got left on her side of the floor (by zombies) the last time a shower was taken (by zombies.)
You can see how dire the situation gets. So if you don’t want to be overrun by the undead, always use active voice.
Because lurking and waiting to pounce is always being done… by zombies.