imagesTense choice creates the scaffolding of building art with words. Whether it’s past or present impacts your verb choices throughout the construction process.

When you complete a draft, stand back and compare the tense you selected with its opposite. Read them out loud. Ask yourself which does the more authentic job of saying what you want to say and moving the piece along.

Then, look at your verbs.  These are the nails, glue and cement that hold the structure together.  How these connect the bigger structural pieces will indicate what the writer wants the reader to see.

Compare this active version of the verb “to bake:”

My mother-in-law baked chocolate chip mandel bread for the dessert table at the bar mitzvah.”

With this passive version:

“The chocolate chip mandel bread was baked by my mother-in-law for the dessert table at the bar mitzvah.”


In the first sentence, the main subject reads as the mother-in-law. We want to know more about her than we would the mandel bread (unless the reader is a pastry chef, I guess.)

The second sentence highlights the mandel bread. The mother-in-law is second in importance.

We’ve got the same subject and verb in both sentences. The same mandel bread and the same mother-in-law. But a mother-in-law who bakes mandel bread and mandel bread that was baked by a mother-in-law are different enough to shift emphasis. Be it planned or unplanned.

Take charge of your subject matter by staying mindful of its active and passive versions, just as you would the set up and rearrange the objects in the interior of a room in your home.