“Strunk and White don’t speculate as to why so many writers are attracted to passive verbs, but I’m willing to; I think timid writers like them for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.” — Stephen King
At first, Wandering in the Words author Steve Schach hadn’t noticed that the passive voice had crept into his historical spy thriller, Old Bach is Come.
Here’s a note from Steve: “Thriller writers should never use the passive voice. My publisher’s edits were a real revelation to me. The story became much more exciting when Jennifer changed my use of the passive voice into the active voice. The passive voice slows things down. It’s vital that the pace of a thriller must never flag.”
That’s right, Steve, and regardless of whether your novel is a thriller or romance, the passive voice needs to take a hike.
Example of passive: They were stopped by a pair of guards.
How to fix: A pair of guards stopped them.
The words “were” and “by” are dead giveaways.
How do we revise?
Go through your manuscript line by line. Check out every single verb. Is it active? What is the subject? In the passive example above, “they were” is a false subject. The true subject is “a pair of guards’ Remember that the subject acts out the verb. Make sure you don’t have your false subject leading the sentence. Revise sentences to have this structure: Noun, verb, noun.
Dig out those daring verbs, put them in your sentences, and you’ll have a masterful thriller, romance or memoir!
And for more tips from Stephen King, get a copy of On Writing. I love it!