Already on ArticleSlash?

Forgot your password? Sign Up

Active Verbs VS Passive Verbs In Fiction

Sandra Haven

Visitors: 1,118

Most writers tend to use too few active verbs and too many passive ones in their stories. Passive verbs are like telling readers what you, the author, think is the case. They don't allow readers to see, feel or experience the scenes for themselves. Passives don’t pull readers into a story in an active, immediate or personal way. Passive verbs explain what happened to the character, as if the character was acted upon instead of being a character who took action.

These verbs include was, were, had, seemed, thought, etc. Basically any verb whose action a reader can’t visualize is probably too passive to hold much impact. Another form of passives are gerunds, which take a normally active verb and adds an “-ing” to the end and starts it with a was type verb, like was running.

Certainly sometimes passives are just fine. They serve a real purpose - at times. But most times an active verb will enliven a sentence. And active verbs are particularly essential in active, hot, tense scenes.

For instance, in a scene where Sally is being pursued and her car suddenly dies, here are a couple of examples of verb use:

Passive Structure:
The motor went dead. Sally was scared and her hands were shaking more than ever as she took her hands off the steering wheel. Her mind was racing at a dizzying speed so that all she felt was numb.

This should be a tense scene, but we have 5 passives with only took a possibly visual act - but not too exciting at that. By activating the verbs you create the tension we need:

Active Structure:
The motor died. Sally’s hands shook as she snatched them off the wheel in fear. Her mind raced at a dizzying speed as a cold numbness threatened to steal her breath.

See how much more intense this feels. We can see every action listed. The reader feels dizzy right along with Sally. We have verbs of actions we can see or feel in some way. Readers are suddenly in the story instead of being told about it.

Verb activation is probably the most important aspect of writing in general to create strong scenes. It falls under the “Show, Don’t Tell” adage presented to most writers early in their writing. Yet most writers - even though they nod wisely in agreement, fully understanding the importance in this simple method of activating verbs to energize their story - still slip back into the passive was trap as they write.

So be ruthless! Look with skepticism at every was and were, seemed and “-ing” word. Replace them with active verbs and you’ll have a stronger scene.

Sandra E.Haven has had her articles and fiction published in the U. S. and Europe-from short fiction to human interest articles, mainstream to genre. Since 1990 she has provided comprehensive editing services for writers and book publishers, resulting in publication for numerous authors. She specializes in comprehensive editing, which includes content, characterization, plot, tone and continuity. She deals in most fiction genres with an emphasis on mysteries, fantasies, and stories for children as well as memoirs and personal essays. For more information see Bristol Editing Services Copyright, Sandra E. Haven


Article Source:

Rate this Article: 
Learn Spanish Verbs in No Time
Rated 4 / 5
based on 5 votes

Related Articles:

Spanish Verbs

by: Chris Tremblay (May 18, 2007) 
(Arts and Entertainment)

An Entire Novel With No Verbs

by: Meghna Kaladi (March 20, 2008) 
(Writing and Speaking)

Aligning Subjects and Verbs

by: David Bowman (March 18, 2008) 
(Writing and Speaking/Writing)

Writing Tip - Verbs of Utterance

by: Lisa Silverman (March 13, 2007) 
(Writing and Speaking)

There Is, There Are - Singular and Plural Verbs

by: Charles Johnson (April 27, 2008) 
(Reference and Education/Languages)

How to Learn Spanish Verbs

by: Frank Cruz (September 30, 2008) 
(Reference and Education/Languages)

Singular Nouns That Take Plural Verbs

by: Manjusha Nambiar (March 28, 2008) 
(Reference and Education/Languages)

Learning English Irregular Verbs

by: Luka Ce (February 09, 2008) 
(Reference and Education/Languages)

French Verbs- A Helpful Guide

by: Annalaura Brown (March 04, 2007) 
(Reference and Education)

Learn Spanish Verbs in No Time

by: George Knoechel (June 02, 2008) 
(Reference and Education/Languages)