My latest fiction piece was recently critiqued by some of my fellow writers, and the results were surprising. Apparently, I like to use “was,” as well as, pronouns a lot. This sparked a brief conversation about not using as many passive sentences. When I got home, I was a bit dumbfounded about how to make these changes, so I made one of the biggest mistakes a writer can probably make. I immediately started tying to fix my work. After an unpleasant hour or two, I gave up. Every time I tried to write a sentence without a pronoun, “was” somehow made its way into the sentence, and every time I tried to take “was” out of a sentence, a pronoun would appear. I started to feel like I was trying to figure out the solution to a formula where X was impossible to determine.
This wasn’t, however, the first time I’ve been told that I write a lot of passive sentences. It’s just that I don’t see them when I’m writing. I create a chapter, read it over, and love it (most of the time). I prepare myself for dumb mistakes, ridiculous editing errors, and the like, but trying to stop writing passive sentences isn’t what I expect. More than that, it’s a far more daunting task than correcting punctuation. It means I need to really reevaluate the way I write. Not to change it all, but to just be more aware of it.
I spent some time the next day researching passive sentences, even though it’s something I’ve done before. These were some of the things I learned:
- Passive sentences often occur because the object is where the subject should be.
- Passive sentences often have a lot of useless words.
- Passive sentences use the verb “to be” a lot.
Those three points were the most useful to me, because they pretty much sum up the feedback I received. But even with this information, I’m struggling to apply it to my own writing. Here is an example of what I’m struggling with:
- One of my typical sentences: He was scared of what might happen if he allowed himself to take that next step into a place both foreign and frightening.
- How I think I can improve it: He couldn’t take the next step. Fear of such a foreign place kept him hesitating on the threshold.
I can already tell trying to write more active sentences is going to a difficult concept for me to master, but I know it’s something worth improving upon. Any good hints or tips? Does anyone else struggle with this?