Times to use Passive Voice

by Justina
(MI )

Question: I know when you want time to pass and for people to see the action, Active Voice is better.

But aren't they're times when Passive Voice is better?

For example, maybe you want to go in slow motion.
If I was writing one slow motion thing in a story, it would be like this

The ball was thrown by the boy, his arms controlled by his brain, signaling him to throw it.

Answer: Passive voice doesn't slow things down. In the example you give, what gives the sense of slower motion is the way you add details to break the action down into stages.

You could rewrite the sentence as "The boy threw the ball..." and the pacing would be the same.

What passive voice does convey is a weaker sense of agency, as though these events are not happening as much by conscious intent.

However, to answer your question, there are times when you may prefer to use passive voice, for instance if you want to downplay conscious intent, because that's the worldview you want to convey. Sometimes the do-er of the action is unknown or impersonal. You can also use the passive voice if you or your character wish to hide the do-er from the reader.

Even then, it is usually preferable to use active voice. For instance, these two sentences are pretty close, but I suspect many people would prefer the second one...

"Suddenly, Dave was struck from behind with a blunt instrument."


"Dave felt a sudden blow from behind with a blunt instrument."

Passive voice also comes with a cost. Using it voice extensively can make your story less clear and therefore more challenging for the reader to follow.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero