Verbs Create Active Voice

One of the things that puts readers to sleep almost instantly is passive voice. Passive voice is writing without ownership. It’s the preference of bureaucracy, business, and academics. If there’s no ownership, there’s no accountability. There’s also no action.

Think about how excited people are to get their hands on the latest government regulation, the latest policy manual, or the latest thesis and you’ve got an idea about how excited they will be to get their hands on your book if you write using passive voice.

The key to avoiding passive voice comes in verb choice. Passive verbs are the forms of “to be.” Examples include is, are, was, were, has, had, have, etc. These are also known as telling verbs. They’re boring, but safe.

Remember basic grammar? What does a verb do? It shows action. Start using verbs the way they are intended to be used.

Too often writers spend their writing capital on adjectives and nouns. But verbs get things done and create reader interest.

If I ask you to write a sentence around a noun or an adjective, you could. But you’ll most likely write a more interesting sentence around an active verb. Try writing a sentence using the adjective “gorgeous.” Now try it using the noun “computer.” Finally, try it using the verb “tumbled.” While you can write interesting sentences around each of those words, I expect the last one came to you easiest. (By the way, I don’t intend you to use all three words in the same sentence, but you probably could.)

So how do you find active verbs? Read. When you find a verb that jumps out at you, capture it in a notebook. I found clobber and pummel that way. Both verbs are interesting because they’re fresh and not overused.

Active verbs can also become tired. Some that come to mind are typically found in clichés or overused phrases. Example: A shot rang out. It’s much more interesting to say,  “A shot pierced the air.”

Give your reader a fresh active verb once in a while and you’ll create a fan.

Happy writing!


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