Though there is a strategy and time for passive voice, active voice is a telltale sign of strong writing. Switching to active voice can improve your efficiency and even your authority as a writer. How can you know for sure? Keep reading to find out how to spot active voice and how to implement it in your own writing.
Define Active Voice
First, let’s define Active Voice
Writing is more than just know what you want to say and simply writing it. Choosing the right words in the right order can have a massive impact on the overall meaning of a sentence. One of the ways a writer can organize and maximize their words is through active vs passive voice. Active voice is the direct way in which you can distinguish who is performing what action.
ACTIVE VOICE DEFINITION
What is Active Voice?
Active voice is the cohesive manner of describing a subject who performs an action towards an object:
Subject + Verb + Object
This is the opposite of passive voice in which the object becomes the focus of the sentence, not the subject performing the action. Neither of these is inherently a better way to write sentences. But there are certain times and places when one of these voices are better suited.
Active Voice versus Passive Voice examples:
- “The director blocks a scene” versus “The scene is blocked by the director”
- “The actor drinks water” versus “The water is drunk by the actor”
- “I use StudioBinder” versus “StudioBinder is used by me”
Understanding Active Voice
How to use Active Voice
Most writers use active voice for the purpose of efficiency. For this reason, it can be a baseline for best writing practices and you can aim to use it most of the time. This is especially true in two situations:
- You know who is completing the action.
Example: “The director blocks the scene.” The person completing the action is known.
- Your focus is on the subject/character performing that action.
Example: “The director blocks the scene.” The importance is placed on the director, rather than the scene.
Active vs. Passive Voice
Using active voice in your writing can be endlessly beneficial. For starters, it can shorten your sentences and keep your writing efficient. If you are writing a screenplay, for example, the goal is to have a good black-to-white balance on your page. It also helps to avoid wordy sentences that detract from the flow of your scene.
Switching to active voice can give your page more breathing room and shorten your page count; therefore, this type of voice can increase your script’s readability and more accurately reflect your film’s runtime.
Another benefit of using the active form is giving yourself authority as a writer. Long, complicated sentences can leave your reader feeling unsure of the action, and overall disinterested (if not frustrated). Sentences written in the active voice are direct, coherent, and engaging.
Example: “A horrible mistake was made by the cinematographer” versus “The cinematographer made the horrible mistake.”
The first sentence in this example feels neutral and lackluster, whereas the second sentence carries more gravitas and authority. The active version of the sentence is more declarative, and even cuts out two words from the statement.
Tips for Active Voice
Using active voice will come easier the more you implement it. Here are some rules of thumb to keep you on your A game:
- Ask yourself, “Who performed the action?” Place them at the beginning of the sentence
- Avoid the passive verb “to be”
- Flag the use of “by” (as in, “The horrible mistake was made by the cinematographer.”) as it often occurs when passive voice is used
How writers use Passive Voice
Knowing both "voices" when it comes to writing is essential. Since we covered the active form in this article, up next we tackle passive voice. What it is, how it works, and most importantly, when to use it.