Monday, March 23, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: The Active Voice

In writing, it is always nice to be sure your narrative can attract the reader’s attention. You want your reader to fall into the story, to very quickly feel like there is a relationship between reader and narrator. The active voice is a great way to initiate this intimacy.

The active voice engages the reader. “I will always remember the girl from the diner.” Immediately, the reader knows the narrator is about to reminisce about a past experience, possibly a romantic or life-changing one at that. “My first girlfriend will always be remembered by me.” This sentence is less engaging, less direct, and less bold. It is easy for the reader to feel a little disinterested while reading it. “My first girlfriend will always be remembered.” This is a little better, but in the end becomes vague: is this the writer, the narrator, some other party, that will always remember this girl?

The first example would be perfect for more dramatic writing, something that will instantly pull the writer into a story that promises an intimate relationship between the reader and narrator. Now, the active voice is not always the best; sometimes the passive voice works just as well and is sometimes necessary to the type of writing being produced, most commonly with non-fiction.

For a deeper understanding of when to use the active voice and when to remain passive, check out Strunk & White’s Elements of Style at

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