Stephen King in his book As I Write says that he has a phobia of the passive voice and considers writers who use it fearful. Most narrative and writing technique tutors will agree with this statement from the terror king.
The passive voice is the resource of the novice writer, it is a fearful and fearful way of writing. This does not mean that you should completely eliminate the passive voice from all your writing, nothing further, it just means that you must know how to use it. I will try to explain this to you in a simple way.
When we use the active voice we are counting who is doing what directly. Phrases actively tend to follow the pattern: someone (name) does something (verb). The one doing the action is usually the subject of that predicate.
The boy threw the ball. He broke a lamp and fell into the fountain, wetting a sleepy pigeon.
When we use the passive voice, the verb needs a container, someone or something on which the action is performed, that will be the subject of the verb. The one that performs the action (if it is included in the sentence) will be a simple modifier of the verb.
The ball was thrown by the boy. The lamp was broken by the ball, and a pigeon was wet as the ball fell into the fountain.
I do not know how you will see it but I am left with the first sentence. People do not use the passive voice to speak, therefore, you should not use it to write either. The active voice gives a much clearer picture of what is really going on. Besides the passive sentences, they are not pretty structures either, in fact only the part of “The ball was thrown” seems aesthetically correct, the rest is a nightmare.
The passive voice in the characters
Many writers use the passive voice to hide the true identity of their characters. Sometimes, they use it to lie or try to hide a reality, very often this resource is used to remove the blame for a situation. For example:
A) I hit your car.
B) It looks like your car has been hit.
In the second example we can see that no fault is admitted in what happened.
This technique is used, above all, in official writings, governments and lawyers are masters in the use of the passive voice (especially lawyers), since it is perfect to avoid responsibilities and to protect the reputation of entities. For example:
A) Some security protocols have become more flexible in order to maximize productivity.
B) The factory owner has removed your safety helmets to save money.
The second sentence expresses the situation more clearly. With the active voice we will always obtain a greater clarity of expression and a greater understanding on the part of the readers. Even when they use the active voice, government and official writings often refer to entities such as “markets,” “human nature,” or “the economy,” which are nothing more than other forms of passive voice.
Unless you are working on a promotional book or advertising, you should always write with the reader in mind and what is best for them. You need the reader to trust your words, no matter if you write fiction or non-fiction, your ghost writing must reflect the truth, plain and simple.
The active voice helps your character to face the truth, to be sincere. There are exceptions, of course, such as when your character does not accept, does not want to accept or prefers to hide the truth. The passive voice is fine when you want to show your narrator’s limitations, but don’t use it to be unnecessarily vague in your descriptions.
Some studies show that many people have problems understanding the meaning of passive phrases. I’m not surprised, because the passive voice is convoluted and unclear. It is difficult to know what is happening if you are not sure who is doing what. The writer needs to be clear and specific.
Another way to use the passive voice appropriately is to describe situations in which the action is carried out by an unconscious entity. In the case of: « … the dove was wet by the water … » The phrase does not sound bad, since we are not trying to avoid a responsibility, we are assigning an action to the water, which is something without conscience, and that is why the voice Passive would be a good option in this case.
Although it would also be very interesting if you treat these entities as sentient beings. There is nothing wrong with the phrase: “the jet of water wet the dove.”
In general terms, the more action your text includes, the easier it will be to capture the attention of your readers. Knowing this, writers often use the active voice to refer to inanimate objects, in fact the typical phrases: “the sun roasted the peasant’s head” are a cliché. Readers already know that the sun does not consciously try to toast anyone’s head, and the phrase is much nicer than: “The peasant’s head was being sun-roasted.”
On the other hand, using the active voice in inanimate objects offers you the possibility of developing scenes in which to deepen the personality of your characters, for example:
«The sun roasted the peasant’s head, punishing him for his stupidity. The man wiped the sweat from his forehead with his dirty handkerchief, acknowledging that staying in those lands was not a good idea. “
The sun does not punish anyone of its own free will, however, it works very well to reflect the dejected state of our protagonist. Here he shows us part of the personality of the peasant, who, for some reason, regrets having stayed on his land.
Apart from the conflict between the active voice and the passive voice, there is another way to “spice up” our writing: using action verbs, instead of copulative verbs. For example:
The soup was hot.
This phrase is written in the active voice and there is nothing wrong with it, however, the verb “estar” seems passive because it describes the state of the soup, rather than offering a visible action. You can give more action to your writing avoiding (if possible) copulative verbs, whenever you can you should replace them with other action verbs. For example, in the above case:
The soup bubbled and smoked in the pot.
Another way to lighten the action would be to replace the action verbs with more specific ones. Your hero can run, or better yet, he can sprint, jog, or march. Each verb slightly changes the way we would perceive the action.
One final tip
There is another great (and very stupid) mistake that all writers make, starting sentences with: “There is”, “There was”, “They had” …
“There were four men standing by the door”
Whenever you can change those kinds of phrases:
“Four men were waiting by the door”
“Four men lurked by the door”