You know the rules. Don’t use was, don’t use it, don’t start a sentence with an ing word, etcetera, etcetera.
To reveal these and other crimes against fiction, I use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard website to highlight 19 commonly overused words and phrases. After analysis, I edit my work to eliminate occurrences of the offending words to pass the test.
I never wondered why.
That is, until I took the month-long Grammar Divas course that was recently offered by the Colorado Romance Writers. Annie Oortman and Darlene Bucholz have put together an excellent class. I’d like to share my biggest learning with you—passive voice.
For this blog post, I put a draft scene of 1,023 words from my work-in-progress through the Wizard. Analysis revealed 21 occurrences of was and a recommendation to delete about seven of them. GASP! I’d used passive voice! Some writers will wag shaming fingers at me. Some contest judges will deduct a mark or two from my score. Some critiquers will suggest a re-write of a sentence.
Some people need a lesson in passive voice. Myself included.
Did you know that having was in your sentence does not always indicate passive voice.
Here are some examples using was: Stephanie was a bounty hunter. I was born. The wedding was a happy event. These examples might be boring or weak, but they’re not grammatically passive.
And here are some examples of passive voice: A body was found by Stephanie. Janie was bitten on the neck by the vampire. The chickens were fried yesterday.
Was occurs in all of the examples. For an in-depth lesson on the differences, I recommend you visit the Grammar Divas’ website at Passive Voice-Killing Your Prose Softly. It won’t hurt. I promise.
As for those 21 occurrences Autocrit found; none of them passed the Grammar Divas’ test. I’ll still reduce the count, but for breaking some other rule.
I'll end with a revised rule. Don’t judge a sentence by its was.
If you’re curious, put a sample of your work through the Wizard at AutoCrit Editing Wizard.