Last week, I invited readers to participate in a little contest to write a passage in passive voice and then to correct it by making it more active. There were a number of great entries, but I ultimately had to settle on one. Although I had hinted that humor might be the way to go (and several took my hint to heart with great effect), I’ve settled on goldfish’s entry, which isn’t terribly humorous but which demonstrates the stark contrast between obsessively passive writing and active writing. Go ahead and give the two short pieces a read and you’ll see how big a difference writing in the active voice over the passive can make. First, the version as written in passive voice:
“Ilsa!” was cried by Hans.
“Hans!” was returned by Ilsa as running was done by her down the platform. Her body became surrounded by Hans’ arms.
“Hans, I thought a goodbye wasn’t to happen! My arrival was delayed by the traffic because bombs were dropped in the market. The cab was left by me and running had to be done the rest of the way…”
“Ilsa, down you will be calmed. The platform was arrived at by you in time. Worrying doesn’t need to be done,” was said and Ilsa’s waist was grabbed. A sigh was emitted and arms were hung around Hans’ neck. Lips were parted and a tearful kiss was had.
“Hans, when will you be seen by me again? My life cannot be lived without you.”
“Certainty cannot be had, Ilsa. Predictability can’t be found with wars, but you will be seen by me again. A guarantee is given by me. Fear is not needed.” Arms around Ilsa’s waist were loosened. A watch was inspected. “The station will be left by the train soon.”
“Hans, something must be told to you by me.” A finger was put to her lips, “More words will not be said by you until another meeting is had by us.” and pressed were her lips by his. Ilsa was backed away from until touching wasn’t done by their fingertips anymore. The door handle was grabbed and the stairs were climbed as moving was started by the train. It was followed alongside on the platform by Ilsa until the station was completely left by the train.
And now rewritten in the active voice:
“Ilsa! cried Hans.
“Hans!” Ilsa returned as she ran down the platform. Hans surrounded her with his arms.
“Hans, I thought I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye! Traffic was bad because they were dropping bombs in the market. I had to leave the cab and run the rest of the way…”
“Ilsa, calm down. You got here in time. Don’t worry,” he said as he grabbed her waist. She sighed and hung her arms around Hans’ neck. Ilsa parted her lips and gave him a tearful kiss.
“Hans, when will I see you again? I can’t live without you.”
“I can’t say for sure, Ilsa. Wars are unpredictable, but I will see you again. I guarantee it. No need to fear.” He loosened his arms around Ilsa’s waist and inspected his watch. “The train will be leaving the station soon.”
“Hans, I need to tell you something.” He put a finger to her lips, “Say no more until we meet again,” and pressed his lips to hers. He backed away until their fingertips were no longer touching. He grabbed the door handle and climbed the steps as the train started moving. Ilsa followed the train along the platform until it completely left the station.
Thanks to all who played along!