How do you keep your audience engaged in your writing? Write in active voice.
Lately, I have read a lot of books by independent authors who have an interesting story line, but their writing is boring. This is because many people write and speak in passive voice. But if you read some of the bestselling books: The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Dragon Riders of Pern you will note that they are written in active voice.
So what’s the difference?
Passive voice uses the words was, is, were, are, and anything ending ins ing. Now, the ing words are difficult to avoid, but there is a way to use them while still making your writing active voice.
Active voice uses action words. For instance, instead of saying was jumping you say jumped.
This is where I sometimes put my readers off. I tend to write very straight forward in active voice; a style many modern readers are not used to anymore. Have you ever listened to one of your friends described their day? Do they use the word was a lot? Do you? We are naturally geared toward passive voice. But passive writing makes for laborious reading.
Consider these two passages taken from my novel Dystopia:
Armed men seized Lina and dragged her out of the room amidst the screams and shouts of the family. Dana lunged for her sister. One of the officers thrust her aside. She banged her head on the table and collapsed to the floor unconscious, as her sister kicked and screamed.
Armed men were seizing Lina and dragging her out of the room amidst the screams and shouts of the family. Dana was lunging for her sister. One of the officers was thrusting her aside. She was banging her head on the table and collapsed to the floor unconscious, as her sister was kicking and screaming.
Which one is more engaging? Which passage conveys the drama that is taking place? The first one because it is written in active voice.
Now, this does not mean that you can never use the words was or were. Sometimes you will be forced to because there is no other way to convey your thoughts. Just keep the passive voice to a minimum. You want your writing to engage your audience.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing a novel or a report for work; you should use active voice. Speak in active voice. It will make your conversations more engaging. You may even become known as a good storyteller among your friends. And if you ever think that someone’s writing is too blunt, ask yourself this: would you rather that it be chocked full of the words was and were.