All my life, I’ve been warned about the danger of sentence vampires. They suck the lifeblood out of words until you are too lethargic to read anything. Their paths are littered with the corpses of dynamic verbs and the ghosts of active clauses. Sentence vampires fly under the radar, hoping that people won’t notice their existence until it’s too late. But I know better. Family writing lore has told me that I am destined to fight them. I am a sentence vampire hunter. And you can become one, too!
Where to Find Sentence Vampires, Part 1: Linking Verbs
To hunt sentence vampires, you need to know where to find them.
Linking verbs are a good place to start, because they are a primary source of low-energy sentences. These verbs describe the subject of a sentence. They talk about what someone is thinking, feeling, sensing, or becoming. The most common linking verb is to be, but there are many others.
Linking verbs are very different from high-energy dynamic verbs, which describe actions. (I staked the vampire.) Using too many linking verbs on a page creates the perfect environment for sentence vampires. These literary predators are constantly in search of passive victims who don’t have the energy to run away. Let me tell you a tale of linking verbs, to show you what I mean.
In a sleepy small town, a sentence vampire weaves his way through the party guests at a local bar. He is searching for young people who use linking verbs. Linking verb users are his preferred victims. They are too lazy to do anything but talk, and are easy to capture. He zeroes in on a group of self-absorbed young girls who are gossiping using linking verbs.
“She seemed out of it today.”
“And didn’t she smell weird?”
“That’s because she is weird.”
“I think she’s crazy.”
The other guests near the girls are bored listening to their low-energy linking verbs. Their attention is on the football game, where action is happening. This is a perfect opportunity for the vampire to strike.
One of the girls catches sight of the vampire. She thinks he looks handsome. As he mesmerizes her with his glowing eyes, she murmurs, “I feel funny.” She passively follows the vampire. Her friends are too busy talking. They don’t notice anything. They are surrounded by linking verbs and are unable to act. Eventually they look around, but she is already gone.
Where to Find Vampires, Part 2: Passive Voice
Sentence vampires also like to hang around the passive voice. In a passive voice sentence, the person performing an action goes at the end of the sentence, or is left out altogether. This is in contrast to the active voice, where the acting person comes first in the sentence. The passive voice creates long sentences that wear out a reader. It can be hard for the reader to identify who performed the action.
Vampires love low-energy passive voice sentences. These sentences make it easier for them to avoid responsibility for their actions. Wondering what happened to the vampire victim in my earlier tale? Let’s find out, and see how the passive voice makes the vampires happy.
The next day, the town is abuzz. A girl was found abandoned by the roadside, suffering from a rare combination of anemia and amnesia. The sheriff holds a press conference in front of the town hall. Despite the clear evidence of sentence vampires, she doesn’t want the town to panic. So she tries to downplay the situation by using the passive voice. Her use of the passive voice allows the sheriff to avoid talking about vampires and the police’s responsibility to find them.
“I can confirm that the victim was found by the roadside. It appears that the victim was abducted. All leads are being pursued. The public will be informed once further information is known.”
The sheriff escapes into her office. She is thankful that she didn’t have to say straight out in the active voice, “A vampire abducted one of our girls, and we have no idea what to do!” She’d never get re-elected.
The vampire watches the news conference from his lair and laughs silently. Once again passivity has taken over the town, and he has avoided being noticed. He is going to get away with it.
How to Destroy a Sentence Vampire
The best way to defeat a sentence vampire is to use the two things that they hate the most: action verbs and the active voice. Start most of your sentences with the person performing the action, and try to make that action a dynamic one. Then you, too, can be a successful sentence vampire hunter!
I watch the sheriff deny the existence of vampires using wimpy passive sentences, and I think not this time. I grab my writing tools and head for the outskirts.
I kick down the door and confront the vampire in his lair. The vampire laughs at me and attempts to capture my gaze. I shake off the effects of his eyes and shoot a crossbow bolt through the west-facing window. Sunlight streams in and surrounds the vampire in a fiery haze. The vampire screams and disintegrates into a pile of inky black dust.
I’ve finally brought the sentence vampire to light. My work in this town is done. It’s time to walk off into the sunset and move on to the next page. Such is the wandering life of a sentence vampire hunter…
16 thoughts on “Tale of a Sentence Vampire Hunter”
To help me on my way to becoming a sentence vampire slayer, can you please provide some examples of changing linking verbs into active verbs?
Hi TL, absolutely! The interesting thing is that sometimes the same verb can be used as either a linking verb or an active verb. The verb “smell,” for example, can be an action (someone smells something) or a state of being (someone smells like something). In my story, one of the girls says, “And didn’t she smell weird?” You could change this to an active verb by saying, “I could smell garlic on her breath” (or some other scent). (Of course, if it was garlic, the lucky girl will probably not be attacked by a vampire! LOL.)
Sometimes it’s not as simple as using the same verb. Here’s some suggestions for the other girl chat in the story to make the sentences more active:
“She seemed out of it today” could be changed to “She almost walked into the doorway.”
“That’s because she is weird” could be changed to “She’s behaving really strange lately.”
“I think she’s crazy” could be changed to “Stay away from her! She’s crazy!”
Hope this helps! Thanks for reading. 🙂
I wish all my grammar classes had been like this one! thanks
You’re welcome! I wish they’d been like this, too. 😉
Oh yes, passive voice is one of my big bug bears, it slips into my writing every so often and I turn an angry shade of red when I spot it lurking amongst my other writing.
Great post – but also great photo. I was so distracted I almost forgot to scroll down 😉
Yes, that particular sparkly vampire can be very distracting! 😉 Glad you enjoyed him – and the post!
Fun post! I’ll never look at linking verbs in the same way again!
That advice on linking verbs has given me a label for some stuff I disliked but couldn’t quite pin down – it’ll definitely help me hunt it out. Thanks!
You’re welcome, Andrew! Glad it was helpful. Good hunting to you! 🙂
Oh this is hilarious. And useful.
Thanks, Sonia! Glad it’s both things for you. 🙂
I think I’ll have to read this article a million times before I properly internalize the advice (for which I am very grateful.)
I know I’m the king of passive voice…
Hi Pat! Yes, that’s the trick, isn’t it – actually putting things into practice. I am still working on it! 🙂
Now that’s how you teach grammar! 🙂
Thanks, Melissa! 🙂