1. PurpleCandle
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    PurpleCandle Senior Member

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    Question about passive voice.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by PurpleCandle, Dec 10, 2010.

    I have a q for you guys.

    For the past couple of years I wrote strictly academic papers. In doing so, I always wrote to avoid passive voice.

    In my creative writing classes we could only use passive voice within dialogue.

    Then I came here and I look at some of the stories in the review section and I saw lots of passive voice.

    I understand typing passive voice into a message like this one because passive voice can be a natural part of how a person talks/thinks. However, I am not sure is passive voice is acceptable for creative writing. Or perhaps I was taught wrong :p.

    So, Is passive voice OK in creative writing or not? Aside from dialogue of course. Or, is passive voice just not a big deal in non-academic writing?

    Any advice appreciated!
     
  2. Sarah's Mom
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    Sarah's Mom Member

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    I recommend to you (and everyone) On Writing by Stephen King.
     
  3. PurpleCandle
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    PurpleCandle Senior Member

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    I just googled that. Looks like Stephen King is with me on no passive voice...LOL
     
  4. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    I'd recommend simply writing so it sounds natural (or if it doesn't, then at least have a reason). With practice, you'll likely slide into a good voice for yourself and your audience.

    -Frank
     
  5. Sarah's Mom
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    Sarah's Mom Member

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    Indeed! Best book on writing ever, IMO. Also agree about killing the adverbs. What I love is it's a regular book you just like to read. One of my favorite parts is him giving his wife a new manuscript and when she objects to one part he says he has to explain it to the reader, doesn't he? And she responds, "Yeah, but you don't have to bore me to death while you do it."

    Now, that's criticism! :D
     
  6. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Eh, On Writing was interesting as a memoir or very basic introduction into the theories and techniques of writing. I'd recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, The Scene Book, or The Lie that Tells a Truth if anyone thinks they actually need a how-to-write book. Elements of Style is cool too, but not quite the same thing.

    I personally find with most writers, by the time they're picking up a book on fiction, they're already more advanced than most most of the books on how to write fiction. It's a weird paradox, and ends up being an expensive, time-consuming slight reminder of what most writers already know.

    To the OP, define 'voice.' There's a different if you mean passive voice as in grammatical constructions, or 'voice' as in the vague fiction term for feeling and mood of a writer's personal style.

    Passive construction:

    The thing was done by her.

    Active construction:

    She did the thing.

    Passive feeling, sometimes referred to as passive voice and then argued about, depending on one's meaning of the word voice:

    She was doing the thing.

    I've never heard of anyone advising to use passive constructions exclusively in dialog. What do you mean? That seems weird.

    I find passive styling is effective in passive moments like dreams or when a character's drunk, when active, direct sentences feel a bit too connected.

    Also, sometimes people are in such a rush to make everything active, because they think it's some kind of rule, that they blunder sentences where the duration of an activity can be accentuated using a passive style:

    The gun fired as he hurdled a cow and hid behind a hay bale.

    It implies the gun fired once, which may not be true. Instead of counting gunshots, which may not be realistic for the character in that moment (unless he's an action-star Rainman or something), one can just go with:

    The gun was firing as he hurdled a cow and hid behind a hay bale.


    But yeah, in conclusion, I loved the memoir aspects of On Writing, and would probably read more King if he wrote more memoir.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use passive voice deliberatly in places it slows down the pace of what is a lot of action.

    To be honest most readers don't notice and I also use middle voice which is rarely used in English but I have always used it even in academic essays.

    I'm with Frank find your own voice.
     
  8. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    People using the review section are looking for feed back. If they are writing in passive voice then maybe someone should point out to them the pros and cons of passive voice-why don't you?
     
  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Hi,

    Active and passive voices each have their own purposes, and it always matters which one you use. :)

    Use passive voice when you want to create a sense of detachment. Having the "was" in there instead of an actual verb sort of slices the sentence in half so to speak, and thus creates a chasm between reader and story. You don't want to use it all the time because then your writing will be harder to follow (and dull-sounding).

    Passive voice has its time and place when you want to create a detached tone and use your syntax choices to parallel that detached tone. For example, if your MC is interacting with an ex-lover/long-lost best friend/etc, and there's that really poignant sense that something that used to be there is gone, you can use passive voice to drive the point home (in select places; you won't want to use it the whole scene).

    Or, if the MC is confused, using passive voice in combination with asyndeton (short, choppy sentence structure) can capture the tense chaos of that scene.

    Otherwise, use active.

    Hope I helped!
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Passive voice can be OK in creative writing if you know what you are doing with it and use it to accomplish a goal. There is plenty of good fiction out there that makes use of passive voice.

    The problem with many beginning writers who lapse into passive voice is that they do so without realizing it, and they end up hurting rather than helping their story.
     
  11. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I use passive voice without realizing it, because I'm a beginning writer, and I guess novice writers like me feel" too lazy to check them (I'm not saying new writers are lazy, I mean me personally). So after I proofread my work, I notice that the entire chapter is overly used with passive verbs and phrases. Such phrases like "I was going to the store," when I could just said, "My legs rushed to the store," or "raced to the store." But who cares? I don't really think that passive writing is that bad. Sometimes it can kill a novel, as I heard on a website. It said that "had," "felt," "were," or "was," are words that trigger passive sentence. Instead of them saying "I felt bad," the website would revise the sentence like this: "I don't know if I should go over there," I said, as raindrops fell down my eyes. Sorry for the lecture, and I'm not trying to dread anyone or nothing, just saying that people told me not to use passive writing, although I find it necessary in my story, so I guess it's up to you if you want to use it or not.
     
  12. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    As with any style of writing, there is a time and place for active and passive writing. The trick is to balance it so that it fits well and it not overwhelmingly unbalanced.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that is not the passive voice... 'was going' is still an active verb pairing, in the past progressive tense... an example of 'passive voice' would be:

    the store was gone to by me

    vs the active:

    i went to the store
     
  14. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Grammatically you're right, of course, but isn't "I went to the store" in a sense more active than "I was going to the store?" The former sounds more direct.
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Yes, kind of. These arguments get confusing because there is grammatical active/passive, and stylistic active/passive, sometimes they're the same, but not always.

    Then there's the issue where writers try to make everything 'active' (how they perceive it) so actions of duration become more 'active' and don't work any longer.

    For instance, smoking a cigarette is a continuous action of some duration, but instead of 'he was smoking a cigarette and waved' a writer will write 'he smoked a cigarette and waved' which could still indicate habitual action, but could also indicate that the character sat there for several minutes smoking a cigarette and then waved after, at which point the action becomes awkward to cover in such a small, space. Or it could be read as the character smoked a cigarette completely in one puff and then waved, as it could be read as a completed action.

    Basically, our grammatical system kind of sucks sometimes, as you have to not only weight what's 'right' but stylistically what will work and be understood, but only generally as two people may understand a sentence differently depending on their perspective.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, they're different. I think they're different tenses, and I'm embarassed to say that I'm not sure of the right terms for them--those folks who know, are they simple past tense and past continuous tense? But neither is passive voice.

    A quick and really sloppy example:

    "Jane tried to pet Fido while he was eating his dinner. It's no surprise that Fido bit her."

    "Jane tried to pet Fido. Fido ate his dinner. It's no surprise that Fido bit her."

    The second doesn't communicate that the attempted-petting and the dinner-eating were simultaneous, and that fact is essential for explaining Fido's reaction.

    ChickenFreak
     
  17. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Yeah, the difference between:

    The bad guy fired the gun as the good guy ducked behind cover. (implies the bad guy fired once)

    The bad guy was firing the gun as the good guy ducked behind cover. (implies the bad guy was firing continuously during the accompanying action).

    A lot of writers try to make everything 'active' and end up cutting short actions that should be continuous or feel as if they have longer durations.

    The opposite mistake is bad too, when durations that should have stopped are implied to have continued:

    Bob was parking his car and got out to say hi.

    Woah, Bob, park your car and THEN get out to say hi, please. Dangerous otherwise.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, the 'ing' verb form/tense does have its useful place... but that still doesn't address the op's confusion re 'active' vs 'passive' voice...

    reggie, do you get the difference between 'voice' and 'tense'?...
     
  19. Sarah's Mom
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    Sarah's Mom Member

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    from On Writing by Stephen King.

    Passive: The manuscript was soaked by the tea spilling out of my cup.

    Active: The tea spilled out of my cup, soaking the pages of my manuscript.

    That's pretty much all there is to it, really. Is the subject acting? Or acted-upon?

    Passive/active future event:

    The meeting will be held at seven o'clock.

    The meeting begins at seven o'clock.
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    A new set of examples:

    Active voice, past continuous tense: The dog was eating his dinner.

    Active voice, past tense: The dog ate his dinner.

    Active voice, present tense: The dog is eating his dinner.

    Passive voice, past continuous tense: The dog was being eaten by the dragon.

    Passive voice, past tense: The dog was eaten by the dragon.

    Passive voice, present tense: The dog is being eaten by the dragon.

    Do these help any?

    ChickenFreak

    (Edited to add: Past continuous or past progressive. I missed the post above where Mammamaia named the tense.)
     
  21. sfhdweb
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    sfhdweb New Member

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    use book "Writing by Stephen King" and also search in google
     

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