“Keep your prose active.” It’s one of the most well-known pieces of writing advice and one of the most frustrating.
Sometimes when writing, especially when you’re first starting out, you have no idea what words are making your prose non-active. You’re just writing, using the words that sound right.
It’s not until you see the difference creating an active voice makes to your story that you understand why it’s a tried-and-true recommendation. Take the following sentences, for example…
Non-Active: Sarah’s fingers fumbled in her skirt pocket, trying to reach for her cell phone.
Active: Sarah’s fingers fumbled in her skirt pocket for her cell phone.
Non-Active: The fire at the entrance had reached one of the glass doors and was turning it black.
Active: The fire at the entrance reached one of the glass doors, turning it black.
Non-Active: When her gaze crossed the entrance, she could see someone standing in the middle of the two trees.
Active: When her gaze crossed the entrance, someone was standing in the middle of the two trees.
Do you see the difference removing only a few words can make? Do you want to do the same for your own sentences?
Use your Find/Search function to dig through your MS for the following words.
- If your sentence makes sense without the word – Delete it
- If the word adds clarity/works – Keep it
- If deleting the word makes the sentence confusing – Rewrite the sentence
The Active Word Checklist
Active Word Phrases
The feel of
The smell of
The sound of
By taking a hard look at these words, assessing each one, and either keeping, deleting or rewriting, you can make your prose easier to understand, flow better, and create impact—which is something most writers can agree is a goal worth striving for.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the checklist series. If, like me, you’ve been using The Delete Checklist and The Weak Work Checklist to take your drafts to the next level, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your feedback.
— K.M. Allan