Acquisition editors have eagle-eyes for both talent and for amateurs.
They’re looking for stuff to buy and publish, and most are so overwhelmed with submissions, they’ve learned to quickly spot anything that allows them to set your piece aside.
Sound cruel? They don’t want reject your writing. But because of their work loads (and their goal—finding something they know will sell), once they see the mark of a novice, they’re on to the next manuscript.
Even experienced writers see their work land in the reject pile if they allow passive voice to creep in.
Give your manuscript a fighting chance and learn how to fix passive voice before you submit.
Defining Passive Voice
So, what is it?
I could tell you about subjects and objects and verbs and which is acting vs. being acted upon, avoiding adverbs, and all that. But unless you excelled at diagramming sentences in school, that’s going to sound like gibberish.
The easiest way to spot passive voice is to look for state-of-being verbs and often the word by.
And the best way I know to teach this is by example.
Passive: The party was planned by Jill.
Active: Jill planned the party.
Passive: The wedding cake was created by Ben.
Active: Ben created the wedding cake.
Passive: The Little League team was given trophies by the coaches.
Active: The coaches gave the Little League team trophies.
Passive: A good time was had by all.
Active: Everybody had a good time.
Avoid passive voice to increase your chances of getting more than five minutes of an editor’s time.
Active Voice Strengthens Your Prose
Avoiding passive voice will set you apart from much of your competition, but even better, it will give your writing a distinct ring of clarity.
Scour your work-in-progress for passive voice, root it out, replace it with active, and see how much more powerfully it reads.
That’s the kind of writing that gets more of an editor’s time.
Has this helped clarify the problem of passive voice? Do you still have questions for me or tips for others on how you’d dealt with this? Tell me in the comments.