Power Up Your Writing: Use Active Voice and Write with Verbs

Use verbs and active voice for writing as powerful as a muscle car. (Photo credit: Ángel Álvarez via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND)
Use verbs and active voice for writing as powerful as a muscle car. (Photo credit: Ángel Álvarez via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND)

In the classic writing book, “The Elements of Style,” William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White recommend using the active voice and writing with nouns and verbs. A quick glance at some of the books written by my favorite authors shows the effectiveness of these rules.

Rule number 14, under “Elementary Principles of Composition,” says: “Use the active voice. The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than passive.”

Toward the end of the little book, rule number four under “An Approach to Style,” says: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”

10 Examples of Vigorous Writing

If you want to test these rules, open the pages of your favorite books and see if you can find some examples. I sure did.  Although most of the quotes below come from literary novels, some are genre, such as novels by Lee Child and Jo Nesbo, authors of best-selling thrillers.

The following quotes describe simple actions, but they stand out because of well-chosen verbs and the use of active voice.

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury

…He flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black.

“Never Go Back” by Lee Child

The plane emptied from the front, with people flowing out in layers, like sand in an hourglass.

“Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

With drooping heads and tremulous tails, they mashed their way through the thick mud, floundering and stumbling between whiles, as if they were falling to pieces at the larger joints.

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

Once in a while a flock descends into one of the huge lindens on the grounds and seethes beneath its leaves.

“A Room with a View” by E.M. Forster

The curtains at the end of the room parted, and revealed a clergyman, stout but attractive, who hurried forward to take his place at the table.

“A Reliable Wife” by Robert Goolrick

When the sun rose, the snow blazed copper as a new roof, then paled to rose, and suddenly whitened into a dazzling brightness.

“End of the Affair” by Graham Greene

But happiness annihilates us; we lose our identity.

“TransAtlantic” by Collum McCann

The road curled and whipped out into parcels of green.

“The Snowman” by Jo Nesbo

The branches scraped at his face, like a blind man’s fingers trying to identify a stranger.

“Woodsburner” by John Pipkin

He attacked the manuscript with a vigor bordering on vengeance.

You might want to read this story:

In Praise of the Hated Adverb…Seriously

Photo credit:

Ángel Álvarez