Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Day Three: Passive Verb Excercises

Day three: Search and Destroy
Now that we’ve found and marked up all our passive verbs, it’s time to work out how to fix them. Sometimes the solution is obvious, but more often than not, I will stare at a was and the brain absolutely refuses to offer a better alternative. After killing a lot of them, though, you tend to get into the swing of it, and it definitely does get easier with practice.
Here are some of my suggestions for killing different types of passive verbs They are definitely not the only solutions, so if a better way strikes you, feel free to share!
For me these seem to be the easiest to eliminate. Most likely because I have had way, way too much practice at it. If your characters were dancing, simply say they danced. Every once in a while you will find a legitimate need to use the imperfect tense and you’ll want to keep the was, but if you find it happening more than once or twice a page, consider axing for the simpler past tense.
See the difference it makes in the sentence impact in these samples.
She was singing an old tune. She sang an old tune.
It was raining for hours. It rained for hours.
He was staring right at me. He stared right at me.
The active sentences are a little bit stronger. Not quite as much difference as killing a telling was, BUT, killing the ing-was is far easier and takes your total passive count down so that if you have to sneak in one or two where it’s harder to fix, you’re still not was’ing all over your manuscript.
Killing the passives in your descriptions makes a larger impact, and has a tendency to add word count too. It’s also a place we often find trickier to unravel. The results are usually a lot less telling and so very worth the effort.
He was fat. His belly rolled over the top of his sweat pants.
Her hair was long. Her hair brushed the small of her back.
The coat was old. The coat’s fabric thinned at the elbows from long use.
As far as description goes, killing the passive verbs is very much about showing vs. telling. It takes more effort and more words, but the result is stronger sentences and better imagery.
-main action
On the show vs. tell theme, we can extend the same rewording technique to kill the passives in our action and exposition and power up the prose.
He was furious. His fists balled at his sides and the skin on his face flamed crimson.
It was a rough road. Rocks jutted between the ruts, and three of the wagons lost a wheel the first day.
The cry was painful to hear. When she cried, we clapped our palms over our ears and prayed.
Much larger difference here, and much more work. But worth it overall. If you fix ninety percent of your was sentences, the added bonus is that you can use one here and there for effect, and it will actually have the impact simply by standing out.
- don’t forget the contractions.
If possible, treat a contracted passive the same as an ordinary one. Try to fix it, but whatever you do, don’t fix it by un-contracting it. More importantly, contracting a was doesn’t count as fixing it. So no fair turning all your “she is” into “she’s” and calling it a victory.
Now, let’s get to some practice. Rework the following sentences and paragraph so they’re not passive and post your Search and Destroy in the thread. Have some fun with them and see what you come up with. Then, take out your sample pages and go to town! Share with us if you like, and if you prefer the passive (in some cases you will) share that too.

Goblins are green and vicious little monsters.
In the center of the library was a long, oak counter.
It was nearly morning when she noticed that it was raining.
While they were dancing, he was quiet as a mouse.
The pups were fat and happy.
The pack was hunting for three days.
It was a gruesome scene.

It had been a rough day. Sue was tired, bone tired, and she still had two blocks to go. Her shoes were too tight, and the stiff heels were cutting into the back of her ankle. It was late. The sky was already streaked with indigo. Sue was almost to her front step when the homeless man surprised her. He was filthy, and his voice was a low growl.
“You need help, lady?” he asked.
“No.” She was already backing away. “I’m fine, thanks.”

Goblins are green and vicious little monsters.

  • I prefer the passive (assuming the “are” is what is making it as such). I hear this statement in response to the question “What is a goblin?” I could easily see the “are” replaced with a colon, semicolon, or em-dash depending on the context of the statement.

In the center of the library was a long oak counter.

  • In the center of the library a long oak counter sat, waiting to be used.

It was nearly morning when she noticed that it was raining.

  • She laced her fingers together and stretched her arms up over her head when she saw her clock glare 4:27am at her. She took a breath and, a moment later, she finally noticed the falling rain against her window.

While they were dancing, he was quiet as a mouse.

  • For the first time in his short life, he didn’t make a sound; his eyes were down as he counted “one-two-three, one-two-three” in his mind with the music, trying so hard not to step on her toes.

The pups were fat and happy.

  • The puppies’ tiny bellies bulged with food-babies as they slept happily in a pile.

The pack was hunting for three days.

  • The lionesses stalked the zebra in silence. They had been tracking their prey for the last three days and they finally caught him.

It was a gruesome scene.

  • The scene was covered in gore and scorch marks.

Sue was tired – bone tired, and she still had two blocks to go. Her tight shoes and stiff heels cut into the back of her ankle. The long work day left her exhausted and beat. Indigo streaks ran across the sky as the sun sank below the horizon. Sue’s exhaustion drove her to become so hyper-focused on her front step – just barely in sight, that the homeless man surprised her. His scent hit her first; dirt, sweat and street grime mixed with who knows what else.
“You need help, lady?” he asked in a low growl
“No.” She said, already backing away. “I’m fine, thanks.”

Comments on the paragraph:

[ul][li]I kept the first “was” to push emphasis[/li]
[li]This could probably be better if I had more context, but I’m trying not to add too much to either the paragraph or the exercises.[/li][/ul]

And attached is the update to my pages. Yay for track changes making things easier!

Air in the West - First Five Pages - Day 3.docx (20.7 KB)

Nicely done. In a couple of your expanded fixes, you’ve put in new passives, but they read well. I might change “his eyes were down” to “his eyes lowered” or something akin to that. (he stared at the floor, etc.)
They had been tracking … could be They tracked because you immediately establish for how long.

This one: The scene was covered in gore and scorch marks.
I’d flip so that: Gore and scorch marks covered the scene.

I think the fun is learning to see the and play with them until you get as much active as possible, but still love the result. :slight_smile: