query problems · writing problems

A note about passive voice

You will never eradicate passive voice from your manuscript. It exists in the English language for a reason. Sometimes we don’t know the agent (doer). Sometimes it’s inappropriate to say.

“My feelings were hurt,” is less confrontational (and more often acknowledged) than, “you hurt my feelings.”

“The pot was broken,” must suffice when you don’t know who or what the culprit is.

And so on.

On occasion, you must use passive voice. We understand. But a query should have almost none.

In a query, you know who does what to whom. Good things don’t happen on their own: the hero is the agent. Bad things don’t befall the hero: the antagonist is the evil-doer.

If your query contains a lot of passive voice, that’s a symptom of a deeper problem. Your protagonist may not have enough agency in the book. They are reacting to the plot, instead of acting within the plot and making things happen.

Trying to identify passive voice and other foibles in your writing? I recommend the Hemingway App.

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5 thoughts on “A note about passive voice

    1. Sentence 2 has no passive because there is no agent in existing. Sentence 4’s “to be” and other verbs like “to have” or “there is” don’t have an agent either, but a more “active-sounding” form would be, “Sometimes saying is inappropriate.” Using that pretend-passive on the non-agent sentences, we get…

      Passive voice will never be eradicated from your manuscript. It exists in the English language for a reason. Sometimes the agent (doer) isn’t known. Sometimes it’s inappropriate to say.
      It’s less confrontational to say “My feelings were hurt,” than, “you hurt my feelings.”
      You’ll have to use, “The pot was broken,” when the culprit is unknown.
      And so on.
      On occasion, passive voice must be used. It’s understandable. But there should be almost none in your query.
      In a query, what is being done to whom by whom is known to you. There aren’t good things happening on their own, but by the hero as the agent. There aren’t bad things befalling the hero, but being done by the antagonist as the evil-doer.
      If there’s a lot of passive voice in the query, that’s a symptom of a deeper problem. You may not have given enough agency to your protagonist in the book. The plot is causing them to react, instead of having them act within the plot to make things happen.
      Want passive voice and other foibles to be identified in your writing? The Hemingway App is recommended.

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