How zombies can improve your writing

We are big fans of zombies in our household: The Walking Dead, Fear: The Walking Dead, Z Nation, iZombie, and zombie movies (Train to Busan, anyone?).

While strolling around our neighbourhood, my husband and I discuss survival scenarios and muse over which of our neighbours’ houses are best set up for when the zombie apocalypse happens. (Reminder: must install window shutters. )

I do a pretty mean zombie shuffle, too. A life goal is to be an extra on The Walking Dead, so yeah, if you know anyone…

You could say we’re next-level zombie fans.

So, what does all of this zombie love have to do with writing better? #copywriting #zombieapocalypse #writingtips Click To Tweet

One of my best writing tips is to avoid the passive voice and write in the active voice.

But what does that mean? And how can zombies help? We’ll get to that… but first, let’s look at the active and passive voice as it’s important to understand what they are because they are one of the keys to writing well.

Active voice vs passive voice

Switch from passive to active voice

The passive voice is when something is done to the subject of a sentence. The active voice is when the subject of a sentence does something.

Examples of passive and active voice

Here’s the most memorable example of the passive voice I can think of:

  • Wendy was raped by Adam.

Here’s the same sentence written in the active voice:

  • Adam raped Wendy.

Whoa! What a difference between the two sentences, right?

In the first example, Wendy is the subject of the sentence and something happens to her – she is raped by Adam. In the second example, Adam is the subject of the sentence, and he does something. He rapes Wendy.

There’s something about the passive voice that shirks responsibility. You’ll often see the reporting of sexual assault and other violent crimes in the media using the passive voice – it’s a subtle form of victim blaming. Wendy is the subject. Something happens to her, suggesting she has some control of the situation.

Let’s see another less controversial example.

Here’s another example of passive voice:

  • The infringement notice was served by the local council.

The infringement notice is the subject of the sentence, not the council. Nope.

And here’s another example of the same sentence written in the active voice:

  • The local council served the infringement notice.

Now the local council is the subject of the sentence.

Notice how in the passive example the council is kind of hands off? Bureaucratic language is often like that. I hate it, I tell ya! I hate it!

I prefer the active voice in all writing because it is clearer and more engaging for your reader. The active voice is easier to understand because it follows how we think and process information. The passive sentence isn’t grammatically wrong, but it’s less clear and less engaging to read.

I prefer the active voice in all writing because it is clearer and more engaging for your reader. #writingtips Click To Tweet

Like subtle victim blaming, there’s something in the passive voice that shuns responsibility. That’s why bureaucrats love it. People opt for the passive voice as a way of shirking responsibility and deflecting responsibility elsewhere. It’s weak and it MUST STOP, PLEASE.

Promise you’ll keep Adam The Rapist in mind from now on?

A zombie shuffling among zombies

How zombies can improve your writing

OK, now we’re getting to the zombie bits.

Rebecca Johnson, a professor of culture and ethics at USMC came up with this fun trick to help you remember the difference between the passive and active voices.

If you can add ‘by zombies’ after the verb (the ‘doing’ word) in your sentence, you have a passive voice.

Let’s try it!

  • Your message has been received … by zombies.
  • The table was set … by zombies.
  • Her performance was loved…  by zombies.
  • The country is governed… by zombies.
  • She was chased… by zombies

All of these sentences are passive because we can add ‘by zombies’  after the verb in the sentence.

And that my friends is how zombies can improve your writing!

Please promise me that you forever remember Adam The Rapist and the attack by zombies and you’ll never write another passive sentence again. ‘K?

Over to you – what’s your favourite zombie movie or TV show?

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