1. singphantom7
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    singphantom7 Banned

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    Help with Passive vs. Active Voice

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by singphantom7, Nov 27, 2012.

    I need help! (In so many ways...)

    Would some kind soul take pity on me and please write a full, lengthy-as-possible paragraph that uses as much of the deadly passive voice as possible? I don't care what it's about. You can write a paragraph on kittens as long as it reads like fiction...I have so much trouble with this. I even looked it up on the Grammar Girl website. I understand the basic idea...writing "Amy loves Steve" rather than "Steve is loved by Amy"...

    Yet somehow I manage to get accused of using too much passive voice in my fiction. It worries me, becuase I don't even realize I'm doing it. So I figure seeing a bit of blatant passive voice might help me understand what not to do. And what makes passive so evil, anyway?

    Thanks!

    Holly
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    many people call things passive that aren't... give an example of a paragraph of your writing that has been branded 'too much passive' and i'll tell you if they're right or wrong...
     
  3. singphantom7
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    singphantom7 Banned

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    Here's an excerpt from "The Tattered Muse", a few paragraphs long. Mind you, this is all re-worked after the magazine turned me down, informing me that the piece was riddled with passive voice. Let me know how it is. Thanks!

    *******

    He began to work and saw nothing but her. The carnival fell away, and all was dark around them. He closed his eyes to recreate her image in his mind. He opened them as he lined the woman’s perfect neck, her collarbone slanting into her dress, her pointed shoulder. He saw her chest rise and fall in his peripheral vision. Her skin glowed with a paleness that suggested little sunlight and too much stress. And there it was, plain as day at the base of her throat—her pulse point visibly jumping. Her heart was racing. His did as well.

    Draw! Why was it so difficult to focus? He wanted to reach out and touch her nearly translucent skin. Nothing in the slightest to do with lust. He wanted to get that sensation he could never quite describe—to use his fingertips to translate her essence to paper. He knew just by looking how smooth her skin would feel.
    The woman turned her head slightly, her eyes rolling among the crowd. There were kids at booths, couples on dates, a few circus clowns he knew personally. What was she hiding from?

    “You have to stay still,” he told her. She snapped her head back, eyes guilty.

    “It’s alright,” he laughed. The artist saw his excuse. He left his easel and closed the gap between them. Slowly, carefully, he cupped her warm face in his hands and gently tilted her head half an inch. In her eyes he found a force impossible to pull away from. He dared to brush her brown hair behind her shoulder, taking the time to notice its smooth texture, its thickness. She flinched, raking both hands through her hair and fixing it back in place. But it was too late. He saw it already—bruised fingerprints on her neck.

    The artist took a step back, bewildered. He observed as she shrank in her seat—her embarrassment and shame apparent in her gorgeous features.

    “What happened?” He knelt, clasped her hand. She didn’t flinch at that. Whatever she felt toward the artist, it was closer to trust than he could have hoped for. He searched the crowd and turned back to her. “Is he here?”

    “What the hell’s going on? Who’s this pawing at you?” A man emerged—his words hoarse and bitter. He stumbled toward the woman, his eyes blazing with red rims and bloodshot veins. His large, dirty hand clamped possessively around her slender arm. The artist saw the man’s knuckles whiten as he squeezed her flesh. More fingerprints for another day.

    The artist experienced something that almost never happened—a loss of clarity. Shades of red and black clouded his vision as he approached the drunken offender. He reached for the man’s arm and successfully removed it from the woman. She jumped up, watching with a look of sheer, unbridled panic.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's nothing passive there... post a couple of paragraphs of the version you submitted, so i can see if that editor is full of beans...
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'll allow the excerpt ONLY for the purpose of resolving the question of whether it is active or passive voice. Critique is not permitted in this part of the site.

    Any critique responses will be removed.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    thanks, boss!
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    "There were kids at booths, couples on dates, a few circus clowns he knew personally."

    One perfectly legitimate passive voice is hardly "riddled", though. As you say, we need to see the unedited version. Or maybe we don't, as the questioner seems to have solved the problem for herself. :)
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But there's no passive voice in that sentence. "There were.." is not passive.
     
  9. singphantom7
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    singphantom7 Banned

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    About "there were"...

    See? I'm so confused. I have no idea if "there were" is passive? "There were kids at booths" has a better flow to me than "kids were at booths"...seems more natural...gaaaah...
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually I agree, but it's a problematic case. It's an case of the Strunk & White example, "There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground". It's the kids, couples and clowns who were at the booths, not the dummy "there". I agree that's not really passive voice, and think Strunk and White got it wrong, but many editors and reviewers will call it a passive because they follow Strunk & White. (Incidentally, shouldn't it be "There was a great number..."? The head of the noun phrase is "number", which is singular.)
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, it should be 'was'... which only proves that even s/w can be wrong twice in one sentence...

    i still maintain that there was no clearly passive voice in that excerpt...
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I agree (with both statements).
     

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