In my Prose Stylistics class, we had to write a paragraph using only active verbs and no passive verbs.  In case you don’t know passive verbs are the “be” verbs like is, are, was, were, will, have been, had been, etc.  Here is a good link for passive voice if you want to learn more:

The instructor wanted us to watch a pitcher or jockey or some other sports event.  You all know me I am so not a sports person.  Instead I wrote about Vicki cooking.  Here is the sample:

            With a jerk, she flipped the onion, peppers, and garlic in the pan.  The smell invaded the entire house as she stirred the fry pan filled with fresh herbs and vegetables.   The chicken breasts sizzled as she added them to the mix adding another layer of scent lingering in the house.  Steam billows from the pan of noodles bubbling next to her mixture of deliciousness.  With an experienced hand, she spills in cream for the sauce.  She tilts the spices in with a practiced air, knowing the exact amount to add without getting a measuring spoon.  The food simmers burbling and expelling tantalizing fragrance that makes the mouth water.  With a gush, she empties the noodles into a strainer and then plops them back into the pan.  She scoops out the noodles and tops them with the chicken and sauce for a delicious plateful of sustenance.    

There is no passive voice in this paragraph at all.  I used all action verbs as requested in the assignment.  Passive voice shouldn’t be completely driven out of our writing but there is a time and place for it.  Here is the different between two sentences


With an experienced hand, she spills in cream for the sauce.


With an experienced hand, the cream was spilled by her for the sauce.

As you can see active voice is more direct and interesting.  It keeps the reader’s attention by keeping the action going.  My professor was not happy in class because no one was talking about the use of passive voice.  She slammed down the stapler on the table and made us write about it using no passive verbs.  I hate busy work and this was definitely busy work.  Many of those who wrote about it in class described the stapler but I took a little different tone.  Here it is:

            It waits silently, prepared for the next invasion.  Flat and thin, they slip between the guard posts.  The general slams down and the sentries impale the invaders.  The invaders escape embedded with two spikes and a rail. 

I will concede you can’t really tell that I’m talking about a stapler but at least it amused me while I did the busy work.  The professor seemed to enjoy my little bit of fantasy. 

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