1. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    Passive voice

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Thundair, Sep 8, 2017.

    How important is it to get rid of a passive voice?
    I put a few paragraphs of my WIP into script write and it identified some areas of passive voice.
     
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  2. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    The advice of getting rid of the passive voice is often given and is generally decent advice. For the most part, your writing will be stronger without it, but there are still times where using the passive is appropriate. If you want to show actions from a detached perspective or show a characters helplessness, then you might want to use passive. Using it too much, though, seems to weaken character motivation and remove some of their autonomy. And generally, passive is just more frustrating to read. So, you don't have to eradicate it from your writing, but it's kind of like mayonnaise, even if you love it, ain't no way you should make it a main course.
     
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  3. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
    "The Netanyahus" by Joshua Cohen
    Passive has an effect; it's detached and after the fact. When that's all you have, it's vaguely unsettling. If you're doing it for no reason, then you're doing it for the wrong reason. But, it certainly has its uses and there are times when passive is better than active, so you shouldn't try to purge them. All of @The Dapper Hooligan's reasons above are good ones.

    I would also add:
    • when the event is more important than the actor
    • when the actor is unknown/invisible (Colonel Mustard was killed in the library!)
    • when the passive fits a particular sentence flow
    • when you're in a whole paragraph of active sentences, and it starts to feel very actor-action, actor-action, ad nauseum, matter-of-fact, . . .
    • when you want to put the end-of-sentence emphasis on the action (even better when closing a paragraph)
    • to connect the sentences
    I had an example of last one, but I can't remember what it was . . . I hate that. Wait! *looks it up*

    Okay, I remembered. This is nonfiction, but it uses a passive very cleverly. It's so subtle that you probably won't even notice the passive. When the structure is invisible, the author is on his game:

    A black hole is created by the collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.​

    The end of the first sentence aligns with the beginning of the second. The ideas are so closely related that the sentences are nearly glued together. (Sentence cohesion: an aspect of the paragraph. No one ever talks about building good paragraphs . . .)

    Anyway, the passive sets it up. Now it's possible to make that first sentence active, but it reads off to me. I can't figure out how to untangle the passive cleanly:

    A dead star collapses into a black hole, a point perhaps no larger than a marble. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.
    Which is okay, but the passive (IMO) is the hero of the day here. My effort lost some detail.

    So I would verify that your passive has a purpose in life. There are dozens of them. If it takes away more from the table than it brings to it, then revise it. Otherwise, it's a lovable oddball, like a weird uncle who's great at parties. (No, not that kind of weird uncle. The not-on-parole kind.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2017
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  4. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    * Skips off to learn what 'passive voice' is.

    Great, another voice to confuse an already confused individual.
     
  5. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    [​IMG]
     
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  6. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
    "The Netanyahus" by Joshua Cohen
    In passive, the subject is the object. It receives the action of the sentence.
    • The cat was freed. (passive, the cat receives an action. Someone freed it.)
    • The cat was free. (not passive, linking verb. The cat takes on a quality.)
    Look up the "by zombies" passive ending. For some reason, people favor this trick. It's ridiculous, but it often works.
    • The cat was freed by zombies. (passive. If the grammar works, then zombies freed it.)
    • The cat was free by zombies. (not passive. Makes no sense. The world of zombies must be grammatically correct.)
    (Edit: I shouldn't call a linking-verb active. I don't feel like thinking about the difference between active verbs and active sentences right now. So I'll just call those sentences passive/not-passive. I need to get some writing done . . .)
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2017
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  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I agree with the above posts saying passive voice can be quite useful, when used judiciously.

    But also, double check that it actually is passive voice. There's a fair bit of confusion about what passive voice is, and I'm not confident that an automated grammar-checker could reliably identify it (without over-identifying).
     
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  8. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    This is the sentence I put into Scriptwrite

    "He had knocked on the door of his own home, his shoulders were slumped, and his clothing was torn and soiled."

    I was trying to figure a way to change it to active, but it seems to lose the meaning I was after
    What do you think?
     
  9. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    He knocked on the door of his home. His shoulders slumped. His clothing torn and soiled.
     
  10. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    thanks all
     
  11. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Okay, you eliminated the verb entirely from that last bit... I guess that's a good way to make sure you're not using passive voice, but it doesn't seem stylistically advisable, to me!

    These kinds of sentences are a bit ambiguous, to me. I'm terrible at formal grammar, but I feel like we're just using the past participle of the verbs as an adjective, rather than actually using the passive voice.

    Like, the construction is the same as "His shoulders were broad", but because there's no verb form that matches "broad", we don't get confused by the passive voice business. Similarly, "His clothing was bloody and ragged" sounds fine, because "bloody" and "ragged" never function as verbs. So I think this is a false positive for passive voice. (The first one doesn't even fail the zombies test!)

    Regardless, even if they are passive, I think they're fine. There's no lack of clarity, no important information is being obscured...
     
  12. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Those aren't passive. They are linking verbs. You could make those sentences passive in context, and your grammar checker is confused by that. For example:

    When he dashed through the briars, his clothing was torn, soiled, and shredded from his skin.​

    Above, the clothing is receiving an action. That makes it passive. Think of it as the subject sitting there doing nothing while an ACTION comes to it. That's the idea you need for passive.

    In yours though, the subject receives a quality. That means the verb is a linking-verb and the sentence has nothing to do with passives. You're just saying: This subject here? It is of this nature. If the terms at the end are adjectives, then that's pretty much what's going on. The trick with your sentence is that torn/soiled can be adjectives or verbs in context. They are adjectives here, so that's why it's a linking verb.

    You could argue that it's a different issue that needs to be addressed (or not, it's not a sin). Anyway, was/is can signal either a linking-verb or a passive. (or past/present continuous tense, etc.) So if you see a was/is, it doesn't mean there has to be a passive.

    Linking verbs do exactly what their name says: they link a quality (adjective) to the subject:

    She is content.
    He looks happy.
    His clothing was torn and soiled.​

    Hmm . . . not sure about those examples. There seems to be subtext. Whatever.

    Anyway, there are tons of linking verbs that are not is/was.

    Dinner smells delicious.
    "Smells" is a linking verb. The adjective "delicious" gets linked to "dinner."
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2017
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  13. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I didn't get rid of the verb, I just changed it from "were" to "slumped" and "soiled/torn." Both versions mean basically the same thing, depending on how you read them, but the way I did gives it more immediacy. Like the actions are still happening even though they're still in the past tense. It works better in the slumped sentence, than the last one, but I kept it like that because I wanted to keep the same feeling between the two and adding the proper "were" kinda messed with the rhythm I'd set until that point that happened mostly because I got rid of "own" in the first sentence because it was mostly redundant.
     
  14. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    What's the verb in "His clothing torn and soiled."?
     
  15. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    To be. It's an implied verb. In rhetoric it's called Scecis Onomation and it's not a mistake if you mean it to be there.
     
  16. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    In English it's called "there's no actual verb in this sentence". I agree that it's not a mistake if you mean it, but again, I don't think leaving the verbs out of sentences is a good solution to passive voice. (Especially when there was no passive voice, anyway).
     
  17. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    The repetition of "His" makes my eye twitch even more than the lack of a verb, if I'm being honest.

    Also super not a grammar expert, but what about:

    He knocked on the door of his home with shoulders slumped, his clothing torn and soiled.
     
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  18. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Facinating things, verbless sentences. Plenty of authors have used them. George Herbert, Margaret Atwood, and Ernest Hemingway, for example. Did it hurt them? Maybe. Maybe not. We're off topic, though. To other matters.

    We were asked to make it less passive, and I made it less passive. Specifically addressing the areas pointed out. If it makes you feel better, between the two of us, you're not the only one that doesn't like it.
     
  19. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I guess I don't really have the same aversion to pronouns as a lot of people here. I barely seem to notice them.

    How about: He knocked on the door of his house. His feet squelched in his shoes when he shifted his weight and his jacket, damp torn and caked with mud, hung solemnly from slumping shoulders. His pants were also torn and solemn, but were caked with much worse.
     
  20. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Overkill
     
  21. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    The imaginary problem we're trying to solve is "his clothing was torn"; I think "his pants were also torn" is essentially the same construction, right? And "were caked" seems like the same thing.

    Again, there's no passive voice so there's no problem with the original, but if there were a problem with the original, using the same construction in the solution wouldn't really work, right?
     
  22. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Hold on. Aren't these simply examples of past and present tense?
     
  23. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Well, go big or go home.
     
  24. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Mixing up my pronouns with proper names instead of repetitively using pronouns was advice I got from the editor of my first book. I've stuck to a mix ever since, as it reads better to me now that I've done it both ways.
     
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  25. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    That's good advice. I rarely start a first draft with all of my names though names, though. So usually my second or third draft is exclusively putting names like "Pablo" in place of pronouns and holders like "Mexican vampire guy." I've probably gotten as used to over pronouning as I have to verbifying everything.
     

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