Passive voice is something that people are often on the fence about. Kind of like the Oxford comma (don't get me started), but it has a very specific failing when it comes to writing, so I find myself wanting to talk about it with you all.
Passive voice is when the action happens on the subject instead of the subject doing the action. One of the biggest ways that you'll find passive voice in a sentence is when said sentence starts with a gerund.
I know, my English teacher's cap is on. Sorry!
Gerund is basically a verb with an "ing" ending utilized like a noun. If you find an "ing" word at the beginning of a sentence, it has become a gerund and is in passive voice 99.99 percent of the time. Yes, just like anything in English, there are always exceptions.
Example: Walking to the store, I saw my friend Jim.
This is passive voice. The action is happening TO the subject instead of the subject doing the action. The reason this is frowned upon in writing is that it's just weak. Characters and actions need confident, precise actions. No, this is not one of those things that you can kind of get away with if you're careful. Passive voice just makes your writing come out wishy-washy and weak. Avoid it at all costs and break yourself of the habit as soon as possible.
Non-passive voice example: I was walking to the story and saw my friend Jim.
In this example, the subject is clearly doing the action and it is more precise. This example is the right way to go. If you do the first, passive approach, your writing will get beat up by every editor you ever meet. You will be in creative writing classes filled with people who tear apart your writing. Passive voice is a painful way to die.
Why do I harp on this? I still struggle with passive voice at times -- at least in first drafts. I didn't learn NOT to writing in passive voice until after writing my first novel-length work. I honestly didn't even know what passive voice was. When someone would try to explain it, I didn't get it or understand why it was so bad. I learned a very hard lesson in pushing myself away from writing in passive voice. Passive voice makes your writing appear immature and uncertain which is definitely not what you want to come across as. It's kind of like learning the proper articles to use or when to use contractions and when to avoid them: you just have to progress as a writer and hone your craft. I know this post will raise the hackles on some of you and you'll want to argue, but take a long look at your writing and realize that subjects doing the action over action being done to the subject will create more powerful writing. This is one of the ways to put your best foot forward in writing and show maturity.
Tomorrow maybe we'll talk about handling criticism. :)