You know the drill: avoid using the passive voice in fiction writing. Right? Well, yes – but also, sometimes, no. In this article, you will learn about why and when to avoid using the passive voice, and also examples of when you can embrace it.

This article will cover:

An explanation of what the passive voice is

Reasons why you should avoid using the passive voice in fiction writing

Occasions when the passive voice can be used effectively in fiction writing

What is the passive voice?

The passive voice is a form of writing in which the subject is acted upon by the verb. For example:

“The vase was smashed.”

In this sentence, the vase is the recipient of an action. Who smashed the vase? We do not know.

“The vase was smashed by Jessica.”

In this version, the vase is the recipient of an action performed by Jessica. We know who smashed the vase, but the phrasing is still passive.

The active voice is when the subject is doing the action:

“Jessica smashed the vase.”

Why should you avoid the passive voice in fiction writing?

There are a few reasons. First, it can make your writing cumbersome and unnecessarily complex. Second, it can distance the reader from the action taking place. And third, it can make your character seem powerless or inactive.

Using the active voice makes your character active. It gives immediacy to the writing and makes it more immersive. It also creates movement, which drives the story forward. And in many cases, the active voice is more concise and easier to read. 

When to use the passive voice in fiction writing

Having said all that, there are occasions when the passive voice can be used to your advantage in fiction writing. Below are some examples.

1. When you want to show a character’s helplessness in a situation:

“The house was being watched. There was no way to know who was doing it or why, but it made Jessica feel paranoid and unsafe.”

In this example, using the passive voice highlights that the character has no control over the situation. This can be useful for building tension and creating a sense of unease.

2. When you want to create an air of mystery:

“The girl in the red dress was never seen in broad daylight. She always seemed to disappear into shadows.”

Using the passive voice here makes it clear that there is something mysterious about this character. This can help to build suspense and keep readers engaged with your story.

3. When you don’t want to mention who did an action:

“Jessica was set up.”

The focus here is on the action – the fact that the character was set up. We don’t know who set Jessica up, and that’s deliberate. It creates a sense of anonymity and mystery that makes us want to read on to find out who set Jessica up.

4. When you want to maintain emphasis on a character:

“Jessica was attacked by the neighbour’s dog.”

If the active voice were used in this sentence, the emphasis would be on who attacked Jessica (the doer): “The neighbour’s dog attacked Jessica.” Using the passive voice keeps the focus on Jessica.

5. When a character is being deliberately vague:

“‘It’s unfortunate that the vase was smashed,’ said Jessica, as her mum surveyed the scene of destruction after the party.”

Let’s assume that Jessica knows who broke the vase. Jessica’s use of the passive voice here could be because she doesn’t want to admit that she did it, or because she is protecting the identity of the person who did it. Either way, she is being deliberately vague.


Using the passive voice in fiction can be tricky, but you don’t have to avoid it all together. Writing compelling fiction is all about finding the right balance between style and clarity. By understanding how to use the passive voice with more precision, you’ll be able to craft stories that keep your readers engaged.

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