Action isn’t synonymous with active voice.

Advice to writers and other “word nerds”:

There’s a difference between active voice and action. It is possible (trust me — I’ve seen it) to use passive voice to write a scene that’s all noise and commotion and ninjas on the front lawn blowing stuff up.

Never assume that a placid or boring verb is passive voice; never assume that, just because a lot of pew! pew! pew! happens, the sentence/scene is written in active voice. (Irony: The sentence is written in active voice is actually passive voice.)

The zombies were all destroyed by the guy with the cross-bow. Meanwhile, the little makeshift fort was guarded by the woman in the red jacket, who was kept supplied with extra ammo by a gaggle of badass grannies, and the youngsters were all sent to hide in the root cellar.

That’s all passive voice; you could follow each of the verbs with by zombies instead, and the sentences would still make grammatical sense.

The zombies were all destroyed by zombies with cross-bows. Meanwhile, the little makeshift fort was guarded by zombies, who were kept supplied with extra ammo by a gaggle of badass zombies, and the youngsters were all sent by zombies to hide in the root cellar.

(Looks like one of those Mad-Libs things as completed by zombies… I mean, by someone obsessed with the ambulatory deceased.)

However, there’s a fair amount of “action” in that paragraph. I could even have written a better version of this scene — more specific detail, etc. — while still keeping it almost entirely passive voice. I’m not saying I should have, only that it’s possible. What happens isn’t the same as how the events are narrated.

About Thomas Weaver

For several years, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom (editor). I'm physically disabled, and I currently live with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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2 Responses to Action isn’t synonymous with active voice.

  1. “Brains,” the zombie said. Nice, but he wanted a farmhouse ale.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I try to stay active, but don’t oppose passive. You’ve done a great job of showing how it can work 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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