Is your manuscript suffering from the blahs? Do you find certain passages feel sluggish but you don’t know why? It could be that you’ve got way too much passive language in there. In fact, that’s one of the most frequent comments I make when I am critiquing an author’s manuscript. Most authors aren’t even aware that they are relying so heavily on passive language until I point it out to them. Here’s a quick way to determine if your writing is too passive.

Passive Language: To Be…or Not to Be

Go through a passage and circle or underline all the instances of the verb “to be.” That includes any use of is, are, was and were. Here’s what I mean:

  • There was a vase of tulips on the windowsill. The blinds were pulled up all the way. The sun was streaming in brightly.

Pretty boring, huh?

Now, replace all the “to be” words with vivid, active verbs. Like this:

  • A vase of tulips teetered on the edge of the windowsill. Someone had yanked the blinds up nearly all the way, allowing the sun to pierce the room.

Chances are, you were really able to see this version of the scene and felt engaged in it. Note also how challenging yourself to eliminate the passive language will also help you liven up your sentence structure, adding variety.

That’s it! Pretty simple – yet powerful.

Let me know how this works for you. Paste your “before” and “after” example in the comments section below.


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