I hate passive voice. I must have missed that lesson in high school. I managed to skip all English classes in college except for Ancient Literature so I missed it there too.
So lots of karma points to Judith for pointing it out in my sample pages!
Just in case anyone out there is lost on what passive voice is or wants a refresher, here’s an example I just ferreted from my WIP.
Her family members had been recalled by Anubis one by one, leaving only her mother and Sitre as fragile links to Hatshepsut’s childhood.
This reads better as:
Anubis recalled her family members one by one, leaving only her mother and Sitre as fragile links to Hatshepsut’s childhood.
I’ve discovered this weekend that I really like to write in passive voice. Thank heavens for Word because otherwise I would totally skip over all the had beens in my WIP. I guess that’s why it’s called a Work In Progress, eh? But seriously, I just don’t see passive voice. I can usually spot bad dialogue tags and pesky little adverbs. Sometimes it takes a few readings, but eventually I’ll weed out the majority of the little buggers. It’s just how I write. When there’s a scene I have to get out of my head I don’t care about showing instead of telling. I substitute an adverb and move on, knowing I’ll fix it later. Rough drafts are supposed to be messy!
But passive voice? Blecch. Double blecch. Give me a passive voice grammar exercise and I’ll can spot the problem, whip out a solution. Give me my manuscript and tell me to fix the passive tense? That’s like asking George W. Bush to find a sentence where he used an imaginary word.
Yes, I just compared myself to Bush. I tried to think of an analogy for Van Gogh or Hemingway first, but couldn’t manage it. My brain is too tired after fixing all these stinking passive voice sentences.
So, yeah. I hate passive voice.
The English teacher in me sort of hates it too… the academic in me kind of likes it. I think passive voice can be very useful in scholarly writing, and at times in business writing (in each case when the writer wants to emphasize the outcome rather than the agent or actor).
But passive voice can be disruptive in fiction at times. It jolts the reader and can derail the flow of the narrative.
My problem with people crying "passive voice" a lot is that it tends to be tied to some other grammar issue. I'd rather have someone say "this sentence is weak" instead of using the "passive voice" argument simply because sometimes passive voice is a good thing in certain instances (yes, even in fiction).
I agree with Matt, everything, including adverbs, people, can be ok in fiction in the right amounts. It's when you have large clusters of it all together that it becomes an issue.
I prefer the term "awkward"– it tells the writer that there's something there that needs fixing, but not what. Just that it doesn't read well.
At any rate, you'll learn to see these things the more practice you have spotting them. I have a few that escape me at the moment that I really relied on my crit group to point out at first that I can now find on my own. Stick with it 🙂
Thanks for reminding me, by the way, that I didn't ever get back to your pages! I'll go visit them now.
Just did a 'had been' check — I've got 24… which I can live with. The ones that still kill me are the 'as's.
And double agree w/ Matt & LT – weak and awkward are good, but if it's b/c the sentence is written passively, more specificity helps.
If I pointed out the passive voice to you, it's because it's my perennial editing hiccup. I wonder if that says anything about how I live my life?
I write "awkward sentence" on my students' papers all the time. Next time I'm grading essays I'm going to check to see how many of them are awkward because of passive voice.
One thing I've noticed with passive voice is that sometimes it's used quite effectively to describe something from the past. I didn't get rid of those ones, but I did cull a number of had beens from the WIP last night. I think it's stronger for it!
But I still have passive voice. 🙂
Hate, that is. Ugh!