Category: Stuff For You

Every writer fears it. It lurks in hidden places, camouflaged by excellent grammar and adjectives chosen with the utmost care. When you least expect it, it pours oil over the page, slicking it so your readers’ minds slide away into their worries and concerns, where they forget all about your wonderful plot. It’s difficult to avoid in any writing and nigh impossible to eliminate in anything longer than a novellette.


It is the dreaded Passive Voice.


Today, I’m going to teach you how to get rid of it. At some point in time, regardless of what genre you write in, you will come across the “by zombies” trick.


Zombies Eat Passive Voice


Slogging through your manuscript tacking zombies onto the ends of sentences certainly provides entertaining mental images. It’s about as efficient as zombies, too. The old-fashioned kind, I mean.


Zombies Are Slow and Frustrating


Using the zombies method, you go sentence by painstakingly crafted sentence, hoping they’ll pass the test. It is time consuming and frustrating.



You Don't Need the Zombies


That’s right. You can. It’s a simple matter of eliminating certain words from your writing vocabulary.


Okay. Not so simple.


In fact, it’s like going on a restrictive diet: difficult to maintain, easy to give up. Unless you’re allergic to the foods you eliminate. If that’s the case, not eating them makes you more comfortable and you’re motivated to stay away from them.


So, from now on, consider yourself allergic to these words.

  • Been
  • Could
  • Did
  • Got
  • Had
  • Have
  • Should
  • Was
  • Were
  • Would


These are bad, bad words that do bad, bad things to your writing. Imagine every time you see one in your writing, you break out in hives. Had and have are particular offenders. You’ll need an EpiPen for those two.


Before I give you my challenge, let’s talk about what Active and Passive Voice ARE so we can see why both the zombies and word allergy diet work. (This may seem like a condescending discussion to those of you with a writing degree under your belts. Not all of us are so blessed. If you are, feel free to skip ahead to the challenge.)

“The active voice always names the actor in a sentence (whoever performs the verb’s action), whereas the passive voice puts the actor in a phrase after the verb or even omits the actor altogether.” (Aaron 39)


In simpler terms, if you want to use Active Voice, the subject needs to come before the predicate. (If you’re not sure what subject and predicate are, see the Schoolhouse Rock! video below. I promise I won’t judge.)

  • Oya jumped left, the mace missing her by a hairsbreadth. (Oya jumped)
  • Just last week, Master made a pair of the men spar for nearly three full days until one of them dropped from exhaustion. (Master made)
  • In spite of her weariness, Arvid collected two bags of grain and trudged to the mill. (Arvid collected… trudged)
  • Screaming with frustration, she threw herself against a tree and slid to the ground to glare at the beast. (This one’s tricky, because it breaks the rule a little by putting part of the predicate before the subject. Note, however, the primary action, the one you really need to know about, does follow the subject. Screaming… she threw… slid.)


Passive Voice happens when you put your subject after your predicate.

  • Having jumped left, Oya was missed by the mace zombies. (jumped… Oya)
  • Just last week, three men were made by Master zombies to spar for nearly three days until one of them had dropped from exhaustion. (made… Master)
  • Two bags of grain had been collected (by Arvid zombies) and Arvid had trudged to the mill in spite of her exhaustion. (collected… Arvid)
  • While she screamed in frustration, a tree had Arvid thrown against it (by zombies) and was then slid down (by zombies). (This one is just a mess. It doesn’t follow the rules but there are allergy words and zombies all over it.)


You can see why Passive Voice is no fun to read. It’s cumbersome, slow, and boring. The fourth sentence is ridiculous when written in Passive Voice. To be fair, according to my handbook, there are instances when you might want to use it, such as when you want to emphasize something other than the subject. (Aaron 40)

The donkey, a stubborn, contrary creature, was loaded (by zombies) with weapons Arvid thought might come in handy.

In this case, I want you to pay attention to the donkey, so I used Passive Voice. In Active Voice, it looks like this:

Arvid loaded the donkey, a stubborn, contrary creature, with weapons she thought might come in handy.

The donkey is still there, but you’re likely thinking more about what Arvid is doing than about the stubborn, contrary creature. I recommend not using this trick. Once you start, it’s hard to stop, and before you know it, you’re writing half your story in Passive Voice. If you really want your reader to focus on the donkey, make the sentence about the donkey.


If you paid attention, you noticed every time I wrote in Passive Voice, I used one or more of the words on the allergy list. In fact, it’s really difficult to write passive voice without one of those itch-inducing words. That’s why the word allergy list works to prevent Passive Voice. As most word processors (including your brain) allow you to search individual words, the list also makes it easier to seek out and destroy passive sentences during the editing process.


Of course, you CAN write active sentences with these words. Most descriptions and speculations include multiple instances of was and had without being passive.

There was no way she could match him without a weapon. Even if he hadn’t been strong enough to lift a cow, his arm reach was almost as long as her legs. By the time she got close enough to cause any significant damage, she’d be too vulnerable herself. She couldn’t count on making it through the circle of men blocking her way to the small square that served as ventilation quickly enough for that to be a viable option, either.


A side perk of using the word allergy list is it forces you to find stronger verbs and helps get rid of useless ones. I bet you’re already thinking of ways to improve the above paragraph. Had, in particular, pops up in sentences that keep their meaning even if you remove the word. It’s a pet peeve of mine.

Arvid stared at the dwindling supply of shineweed she had gathered during the fall.


Arvid stared at the dwindling supply of shineweed she gathered during the fall.

See? Zero change to meaning and yet I see it in people’s writing frequently. Arrrrrrgh!!! Death to all the useless hads!


I’m okay now. Sorry about that.


So there it is. An efficient method for eliminating Passive Voice and why it works. Perhaps not as much fun as chasing zombies around your manuscript, but faster and with the impressive perk of stronger writing. I endeavor to stick to my word allergy elimination diet as often as possible. Like all of you, I’m still learning and growing. In the interest of furthering the development of my craft, I want to see how others handle word allergies. (Selfish, I know. That’s why I’m offering a prize.)


The Challenge

Write a short story between 2000 and 2500 words using none of the words on the word allergy list.

The Rules

The story must be in past tense. Present tense stories will be disqualified.

If you write anything that might be considered adult content, please, pretty please put a hard-to-miss disclaimer above your story.


The Linky

Once your story is posted on your blog, come back here and click on the blue froggy to let me know where to find your entry. If you lack a blog, but want to play, click here for instructions for adding Facebook or Twitter links.

The Prize

$5 Amazon gift card (email delivery)

The Fine Print

Submissions close at 11:55 PM Alaska time on April 16th. Any genre is acceptable. Present tense stories do not qualify and will be removed from the drawing. Multiple entries are allowed but they must each have their own link. Winner selection will be determined by this unfeeling, unbiased random number generator. Numbers are automatically assigned when you add your entry to the linky. The winner will be announced no later than May 16th. In order to receive your prize, you must provide me with a valid email address.




Aaron, Jane E. The Little, Brown Essential Handbook for Writers. 3rd ed. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc, 2000

I took all other quotations from The Queen of Bears by me. (Not by zombies. Zombies don’t write books. Unless you count the authors who live in constant states of sleep-deprivation, guzzling coffee and wishing they knew where to find brains. By those standards, zombies write lots of books and I’m one of them.)

Torn Asunder by Alana Terry

Torn Asunder is the newest suspense novel from award-winning author Alana Terry. Torn Asunder is the story of Hannah and Simon, two North Korean refugees who sneak back into their country to serve as underground missionaries. In this world of spies, secret police, and informants, Simon and Hannah learn that staying together won’t just compromise their ministry. It could cost them both their lives.
Torn Asunder launches today for just 99 cents, and all book sale proceeds today support the work of Liberty in North Korea, an organization that runs an underground railroad for North Korean refugees. You can get the paperback or the ebook for 99 cents for a limited time only. And remember the best news ~ Your purchase will help save a North Korean refugee!
Excerpt from Torn Asunder:

Simon gritted his teeth. His head felt like it was sinking. The general kept his voice level and pleasant as he slipped the device over Simon’s pinky. “Now, you just tell me who you delivered your Bibles to, and I’ll let you leave here with everything intact.”Simon tried to swallow. His whole jaw was swollen from his scuffle in the woods. He shut his eyes and hoped the general couldn’t feel him tremble.

General Sin chuckled to himself. “Silly me. I forgot.” He slid the device off Simon’s finger. “This kind of tool won’t work on a big, strong man like you.” He strode over to Hannah and yanked her hand before Simon could even cry out. He jammed her ring finger into the opening.

Simon struggled against his iron restraints. “Let her go!”

Hannah sucked in her breath. General Sin still glared at Simon. “This is your last chance. Give me the names, and I’ll release her unharmed.”

Simon’s field of vision blurred over. He wanted to scream. The metal from his handcuffs sliced open his wrists. He pictured himself breaking free and tackling the general to the ground.

“Better talk.” General Sin yawned. “I hate getting my uniform messy.”

Hannah’s hand trembled, but she didn’t make a noise.

“Three …”

Simon clenched his jaw, unable to tear his face away from Hannah’s wide, terrified eyes.

“Two …”

Want more? Buy Torn Asunder on amazon now. And remember, all book sales today will be donated directly to Liberty in North Korea, a group committed to seeing North Koreans achieve their freedom in THIS GENERATION.

Want to help spread the word? See below to click and tweet, or share this image on your timeline. Then be sure to scroll down to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a $100 gift card, surprise grab bag ($60 retail), great CD from Cherie Norquay, and free prizes to everyone who enters! And don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us what you think of Hannah and Simon and those like them who sneak into hostile mission fields to share the gospel.

Post by Alana Terry.

Are you on twitter? Just click to tweet ~

Tweet: Buy a book. Save a refugee. Torn Asunder by Alana Terry. All proceeds today to @libertyinNK. #99cents #suspense

Tweet: New release Torn Asunder, Christian #suspense set in #NorthKorea. All proceeds today donated to @libertyinNK #99cents

Or copy and paste into an email or Facebook status: Torn Asunder is a new Christian suspense novel by Alana Terry about two North Koreans who serve as undercover missionaries. It’s on sale for only 99 cents, and all book proceeds today will be donated to Liberty in North Korea’s underground railroad for North Korean refugees.

Did you help spread the word? Click below to claim your prizes!

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Free Ebook Giveaway From Alana Terry

Torn Asunder is the upcoming release from award-winning Christian suspense novelist Alana Terry. You can pre-order Torn Asunder on amazon now for only 99 cents and have it delivered right to you when it’s released in December. As an added bonus, Alana, along with recording artist Cherie Norquay, is offering free downloads of one of the songs featured in Torn Asunder.

Synopsis: After graduating from the Secret Seminary, Hannah and Simon are ready to return to their homeland. Their training has equipped them to carry the gospel to a country ravaged by darkness and despair. If necessary, they’re even prepared to face the North Korean labor camps, but the hardest part of their mission isn’t the hunger, cold, and incessant danger. The hardest part is cutting off contact with one another.

In this world of spies, secret police, and informants, staying together might not just compromise their ministry. It could cost them both their lives.

A Christian romantic suspense from the author of The Beloved Daughter, which won awards from Women of Faith, Grace Awards, Readers’ Favorite, The Book Club Network, and more.

Pre-order Torn Asunder for only 99 cents or enter the giveaway below! You can also sign up to get a free mp3 song download from Cherie Norquay, whose work is put out by Grammy-award-winning producer, Phil Naish, and whose lyrics helped inspire certain scenes in Torn Asunder. Click below or get her free song downloads here. (Several of her song lyrics also appear in the novel itself.)

You can also sign up below to help spread the word about Alana’s fundraiser to help rescue North Korean refugees on a modern-day underground railroad.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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