Hello, writers. Tonight’s topic was suggested by quarkstomper, for which I am, as ever, very grateful.
You’ve probably been told, quite likely in college, that passive voice constructions should be avoided.
In case college was an awfully long time ago, here’s a reminder:
The bedful of jumping armadillos annoyed Phillip.
Phillip was annoyed by the bedful of jumping armadillos.
Now you may be thinking that the second example actually sounds better. Or you may not. These things are subjective. To me, anyway, the second example sounds better. And yeah, it’s passive voice.
See, the passive voice thing is one of those rules for non-writers.
For writers, the rule is always: If you can make it work, it’s fine. Or as teh Guru says
You can do anything you can get away with.The problem with the passive voice is when it indicates a global problem with the story. One I see kind of often is the passive protagonist. A synopsis might read like this:
Jasper Callow, a callow youth, is told he must find the fabled Jewel of Togwogmagog, for lo, it has been prophesied from the beginning of time. But Jasper is beset by problems. His best horse is cursed by the Bad-Ass Magician of Dwoggle. His Stout Companion comes down with the measles, which threatens to put the kibosh on Stout’s romance with the fair solictress Liddy Gator.It seems like I see this kind of thing fairly often. The protagonist is standing there looking decorative while
But just when a new horse is found for Jasper and Stout’s spots start to go down, a new danger is discovered by Jasper’s uncle, Bunny Nesbit. Alas… etc.
1. things happen to him/her
2. other characters do stuff
So to my thinking that’s the real problem with passivity: when it happens to characters rather than to verb constructions. And sometimes the latter does indicate the former.
But I’m probably missing something here. What do you think about the passive voice?
In the passage below, the protagonist is letting things happen to him/her. Rewrite the scene so that s/he takes charge, comes out swinging, kicks grebe and takes names, etc.The callow youth was cornered. The Bad-Ass Magician Dwoggle had surrounded her with evil hissing grebes. Right now the beasts were dancing a conga, but at any moment they would strike. It would be like being pecked to death by misunderstood ducks. The callow youth reflected that if only her duffel bag hadn’t been stolen at the inn, and if only her stout companion hadn’t been captured by pirates, this scene could have played quite differently.(I use “she” but you must feel free to change gender and whatever else you feel needs changing.)
NB—No Write On! next week as I wouldn’t dream of trying to compete with the VP debates. See you Oct. 18th.
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