Posted On November 20, 2009 by Print This Post

Wrong Turn onto Passive Lane

Good morning, RU crew! Have you ever accidently turned the wrong way down a one-way street? My husband and I made this mistake in a small French town a few years ago, and guess what just happened to be located on that very street? Yup, the police station! Fortunately, we weren’t given a ticket, but it sure would’ve been nice if someone had warned us about those tricky French streets. Today, author Eliza Knight is here to keep us from taking a wrong turn down an equally risky road, Passive Lane.

Eliza_2Welcome back, Eliza!

She felt his hand grabbing her arm.  Turning her head, she followed the sound of his breathing in her ear.  She wondered who this man was, what he was doing.  She heard her heart hammering in her chest, felt the chills running along her limbs.  She was considering what her options were.  Through the dimly lit corridor she saw she was alone.  No one was coming for her.  Was today the day she would meet her maker, she wondered. 

In today’s fast paced world of DVR, action packed thrillers, computer animation, texting, and gadgets whose manuals take longer to read than the time it would take to actually do the deed yourself, a passive writer can’t win.  Not to mention the fact with the way the economy is, publishers, agents and readers are a lot more cautious about the books and writers they’ll invest in.

What does that mean?  It means if your writing looks like my first paragraph above you might want to do some editing—scratch that— you NEED to do some editing.

I’ve committed some major passive crimes in paragraph one.  Let’s face it, all of us have taken a wrong turn on Passive Lane and had our cars break down there.

What are passive blunders? 

Passive words like, felt, saw, heard, look, watch – Just state what they are experiencing. 

Nearly, almost – Did it almost happen or not?  Did it nearly happen or not?

“was __ing” phrasing – Whenever possible replace these with “ed” words.

Starting a sentence with an “ing” word – try not to do this if you can.  Or only do it sparingly.

Over-explaining instead of just stating it.  – Too many words slow down the pacing and bore the reader.

Telling vs. Showing – Let the reader experience and “see” the scene.

Use the 5 senses– these will always make your scene pop and come alive.

Make your writing tight and fast – You want the pages to fly by when the reader reads them.  Make it tight and fast, action filled (not necessarily action-packed).

Sometimes you can’t avoid the above, you have to use them—the sentence reads better or for whatever reason.  But most of the time you can.  Use your judgment.  Read your work aloud.  Run it past someone.

You see I put Telling vs. Showing in my list, which is really a whole other blog, but it needed to be mentioned.  When you tell a reader what’s happening instead of showing them, your writing comes off as weak, and doesn’t pop—it’s passive.  A reader wants to be involved in the story, become a part of it, experience it

How can we fix the above paragraph?  First let’s point out all the passive things that need to be changed.  I’ve underlined and put in bold the blunders below.

She felthis hand grabbing her arm.  Turningher head, she followed the sound of his breathing in her earShe wondered who this man was, what he was doing.  She heard her heart hammering in her chest, feltthe chills running along her limbs.  She was considering what her options were.  Through the dimly lit corridor she saw she was alone.  No one was coming for her.  Was today the day she would meet her maker, she wondered. 

Here’s a better way I could have written the above.

“Fingers gripped her arm, nails cutting into her skin.  Hot, fetid breath grazed her ear.  Who the hell was he?  Her heart slammed against her ribs, chills ran rampant across her skin.  Dim lighting filled the empty corridor.  No one would come for her. What were her options? Was today the day she’d meet her maker?”  ©Eliza Knight

Better right?

Here’s one for you.  Fix this paragraph for a chance to win a free workshop given by me.  I’ll announce the winner tomorrow morning in the comments section.

His hand was running up and down the length of the curtain.  She felt each stroke as if it was her skin beneath his fingertips and not the brocade fabric. Breathing out, she watched as he turned to look at her.  She heard him suck in his breath, nostrils almost flaring.  His eyes had turned darker, no longer emerald in color, but nearly black. 

HerCaptainSurrenders_w3647_300Good luck!  I look forward to reading your paragraphs!  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!



 Eliza Knight is the author of sizzling historical romance and erotic time travel Highlander romance.  Eliza is the owner of the award-winning blog, History Undressed and has published numerous articles on writing craft and history. She is a freelance copy editor, professional critiquer, President of the Celtic Hearts Romance Writers signature chapter of the RWA and Contest Chair for Hearts Through History. She presents workshops on history, researching techniques and writing craft, to writing groups online. For more information on Eliza, please visit or

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24 Responses to “Wrong Turn onto Passive Lane”

  1. His hand ran the length of the curtain, up, down. Each stroke streaked heat across her skin as if his fingertips caressed her. He turned, nostrils widening as he sucked in a breath. His eyes had darkened from emerald to black.

    Posted by Anne | November 20, 2009, 7:45 am
  2. As she watched his hand run up and down the length of the curtain, she felt each stroke as if it were her skin beneath his fingertips. When he turned to look at her she heard his indrawn breath, saw his nostrils flare. His eyes dilated, drowning their emerald in black.

    Posted by Elaine McCarthy | November 20, 2009, 10:29 am
  3. Fun, Eliza! I’m interested to see the variety of rewrites you get since I’m sure we’ll each put our own touch on the paragraph.

    His hand caressed the length of the curtain. Up. Down. Her skin tingled with each stroke against the brocade fabric. She exhaled. He turned. His nostrils flared as their gazes locked. His eyes darkened from a sparkling emerald green to a fathomless black.

    Have fun reading the posts! I know I will.

    Posted by Emma Lai | November 20, 2009, 10:36 am
  4. Hi Eliza!

    His hand ran up and down the length of the curtain. Each stroke caressed her as if it were her skin beneath his fingertips and not the brocade fabric. She exhaled and watched him turn to her. Nostrils flared, he sucked in his breath, his eyes now darker, no longer emerald, but black.

    Posted by Kim Preston | November 20, 2009, 10:54 am
  5. Always harder to do than it seems, but this is good practice! Thanks!

    He ran his hand up and down the length of the brocade curtain.

    Her skin burned in response to the image it provoked. A sigh of pleasure escaped her and he turned at the sound.

    His nostrils flared as he drew in her scent. His eyes, once the color of pure emeralds, now obsidian. His desire for her grew palpable.

    Posted by althea preston | November 20, 2009, 11:53 am
  6. Hi, Eliza and welcome to RU. Thank you for a great post! I’ll be adding this one to my editing checklist. Here’s my quick shot at a rewrite. I’m going to work on it some more! LOL. Too fun.

    He moved his hand over the brocade curtain. Up, down, up, down. How would those long fingers feel stroking her skin? A tingle danced along her arms and she exhaled. He turned to her and his emerald eyes darkened to the color of melted chocolate.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 20, 2009, 12:15 pm
  7. Hi Eliza. This is fun. 🙂

    His hand glided up and down the roughness of brocade curtain. Each stroke as if his calloused fingertips had caressed her skin. She let out a breath. He spun and looked at her. Nostrils flared. Emerald eyes turned black.

    Posted by Kim Cresswell | November 20, 2009, 12:24 pm
  8. Thank you Eliza for your words of wisdom and a great morning exercise.

    She closed her eyes and her skin melted under the heat of his finger tips, she let out a sigh. He turned, their eyes locked. She could hear his every breath, his nostrils almost fairing. His eyes once an emerald color, blackened. His hand continued to run the length of the curtains brocade fabric. She knew her imagination had disclosed her deepest desires.

    How would you rewrite the paragraph?
    What further suggestions can you offer us at this time?


    Posted by Holly | November 20, 2009, 2:14 pm
  9. Great takes on the paragraph! I’m loving reading everyone’s work! How fabulous that the paragraph can be written so many different ways?

    Holly asked how I would rewrite it, here’s my stab at it:

    He gripped the curtain, his gaze out the narrow window. Long thick fingers drew her attention as he ran them up and down the length of the brocade fabric. She imagined it was her skin beneath each tender stroke. Wished his fingertips traced the sensitive parts of her body. Wanton.

    As he turned his broad sinewy body toward her, she caught his musky sensual scent. Pine, spices and man. Her chest tightened, and she let out her held breath in a long slow swoosh.

    He growled low in his throat, nostrils flared with primal intensity. Their gazes locked. His once emerald eyes, darkened and smoky with desire.

    Further suggestions… Read your scene aloud, even to someone else. Can they picture it? Can you picture it? Are you there, experiencing it? Use the senses to make it pop. When you can use ed instead of ing. And of course, practice, practice, practice. The only way a writer can get better is to write. The more you write, the better you’ll get.

    Posted by Eliza Knight | November 20, 2009, 2:45 pm
  10. Hi Eliza! (waving madly)

    His large, masculine hand fingered the curtain. Up, down, up, down. Each stroke evoked heat, a light sizzle beneath her skin as if the fabric was her body. He turned. Their gazes locked. Her breath whooshed from her lungs. He sucked in a breath, nostrils flared. His piercing, emerald eyes darkened, nearly black.


    Posted by Cher Gorman | November 20, 2009, 3:55 pm
  11. Hi Eliza, This is fun–to participate and to read!

    Long, supple fingers, traced the curtain’s brocade pattern as though he caressed the back of a willing paramour. The length of her spine tingled at his tender action and her breath rushed from her lungs, stirring the lavender-scented air around her. He stilled. And then he turned, nostrils flaring, emerald eyes flashing dark fire. His gaze held hers as his lithe fingers fondled the length of the curtain once again, beckoning her. In moments she would become the lover receiving his heated caress.

    Posted by Kathleen Bittner Roth | November 20, 2009, 5:06 pm
  12. Dear god, the man was a devil of temptation, the way he ran his hand up and down the length of the curtain, teasing her senses. Each stroke seduced her as if it was her skin beneath his fingertips and not the brocade fabric. A shallow breath escaped her lips when she watched him turn to face her. Nostrils slightly flared, he sucked in a deep breath. His eyes grew darker, no longer emerald, to almost obsidian in color.

    Posted by Melissa Marelic | November 20, 2009, 5:19 pm
  13. Keep `em coming! These are awesome!

    Posted by Eliza Knight | November 20, 2009, 5:31 pm
  14. No time to play today, Eliza. But I love the post and linked to it on my blog. Best of luck ladies.

    Posted by Catherine Bybee | November 20, 2009, 7:09 pm
  15. His hand ran up and down the length of the curtain. She trembled with the thought of his fingertips touching her skin instead of the brocade fabric. Her breath hitched and he spun around, pinned her in place with his dark gaze. The otherwise empty theater amplified the sound of his ragged breath. Knees weak with need, she shifted on her feet. His nostrils flared and his once emerald eyes glinted ink black in the dim light. Her palms dampened with the knowledge that tonight, he was hers…

    Posted by Megan Mackas | November 20, 2009, 7:22 pm
  16. The curtain rippled in a silken breath as strong tan finger ran down the brocade’s length. Her heart slammed as heat roiled down her spine in time with his motion. Forcing the breath from her lungs, she took another, trying to still the frantic beating in her chest. What a mistake, his scent drifted about the room forcing a new onslaught of spiraling emotional discord. He faced her with a slight grin. The glittering emerald eyes grazing her up and down added to her distress. She raised a hand to her neck, attempting to hide her bounding pulse. HIs nostrils flared. The hitch of his breath echoed through her head as his pupils dilated with desire. Her body tingled with awareness of his virility, his sensuality, the power of his gaze. Could he know the of the turmult warring inside her? Did he feel the same?

    Great blog, Eliza! Thanks for the pointers.

    Posted by Mary McCall | November 20, 2009, 8:54 pm
  17. Hi Eliza,

    Sorry for being so late! Thank you for joining us again at RU. I really enjoyed this exercise. Here’s my stab…

    He waited until the sun slipped beneath the horizon before turning her way. His large hand slid down the gold brocade curtain with a spine-curling sensuality that left Gracie breathless. And aching. An eternity of silence stretched before them. His emerald gaze darkened into a swirling pool of jet black and his nostrils flared as if he caught her scent.


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | November 20, 2009, 8:57 pm
  18. Hi Eliza –

    What a fun exercise! Sorry I was a bit absent today (actually it’s now tomorrow where I am :)). Baseball and other weekend stuff.

    Wonderful post – thank you for being with us again. Maybe I’ll take a stab at the paragraph once I’ve had a cup of coffee!


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 20, 2009, 9:50 pm
  19. His hand stroked the length of curtain. Up. Down. Up. Down. Each stroke was magnified as though it were her skin beneath his fingertips, her skin feeling the heat of his, her skin that shivered against his touch. On a delicious sigh, she watched his beautiful face. He looked down at her, his eyes no longer a burning emerald, but a deep, impenetrable black. He sucked in a breath, nostrils flaring, and whispered her name.

    Sorry, I’m late too……and obviously need some more serious help on show vs tell!


    Posted by carrie | November 20, 2009, 11:26 pm
  20. I do think it’s easier to break it down into the shorter, showing of the story to start with and then work through it to make it richer as you go. I went to bed last night, mulling the brief sentences I’d posted yesterday and woke up this morning with a very full couple of paragraphs running through my head.

    I think it’s the difference (at least for me) of getting the original down on paper while it’s fresh so I don’t forget it and then have the luxury of ‘filling in the blanks’ later on.

    Some writers can do that as they go. Me, not always so much.

    Thanks! 🙂

    Posted by althea preston | November 21, 2009, 10:04 am
  21. All of these were so great I couldn’t decide! So I let my daughter do a random drawing….and the winner of a free workshop is….drum roll…..Carrie. Please email me 🙂

    Posted by Eliza Knight | November 21, 2009, 1:59 pm
  22. Great article Eliza, Dropped by too late to enter the contest, but enjoyed your paragraphs! I’ll revisit this site often for new ideas and hints about writing!

    Posted by Judith Hanes | November 21, 2009, 3:20 pm
  23. me???? woot woot! Thanks Eliza…..looking forward to it very much!!


    Posted by carrie | November 23, 2009, 11:12 am
  24. Nice website! I enjoy a couple of from the articles which have been written, and particularly the comments posted! I will definately be returning!

    Posted by Lynsey Ragel | November 26, 2010, 3:32 am

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