How to Make Your Writing Flow Better

I discovered an old draft of my first novel the other day, and upon reading it, I was honestly shocked at how clunky the writing sounded. At the time I wrote it, I had a vague inkling that my prose didn't seem quite as smooth as a lot of other people's, but nowadays I can plainly see what the problem was: too much passive voice.



My #TeenPit mentor, Lisa Schunemann, was the first person who really drilled active voice into me. I kinda knew what passive voice was before, but I wasn't very good at spotting it. Turns out, certain verbs are a dead giveaway: specifically, conjugations of "to be," such as "was," "were," or "is." Consequently, the easiest way to make your writing flow better is to try and rewrite your sentences without those verbs when possible. Even if the construction technically isn't passive voice, choosing a stronger verb can also make your writing more exciting to read.

To illustrate this, here's a quote from the aforementioned novel:

"The brick was dirty. The mortar was cracked and gray. The wall looked old."

Ugh, bo-ring! Here's how I could have written it in a more exciting way:

Dirt spattered over the brownish stone, and gray mortar crusted in the gaps between the bricks. [I cut the bit about "the wall looked old," cause that's obvious]

The wall itself is just static -- neither it nor its components are moving anywhere, so you wouldn't normally think of it as an active subject. But rewriting those sentences in active voice makes your writing more interesting and rich for the reader.

Of course, not every instance of a "to be" verb can be cut -- or should be cut. Sometimes, "to be" verbs are used for voice or effect, or even just to gloss over background information to keep a story's pacing on point. In general terms, though, assume that you can write the sentence in a more interesting way unless there's a darn good reason why not.

I tried my best to eliminate unnecessary passive voice in later versions of my first novel, but alas, I hadn't quite found my flow yet. That brings me to the final ingredient in making your writing flow better: practice. The differences in flow between my first completed manuscript and my second were profound. I didn't take any specific writing courses, or learn any new information; I just wrote another 80,000+ words.

So if you feel like your writing comes out clunky and weird, try getting rid of some of those "to be" verbs. And remember, the only way to get better is to practice.

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