Tuesday, March 10, 2015


One of the many writerly rules is to avoid the passive voice.
I'm on record as ranting about “rules” and the slavish following of these tenets. Sure, the How To books on the art of writing would be out of business if only folks like me existed. But there is no danger of that. Books that promise to make an artist out of anyone are doing fine, thank you. Better than the books they promise they'll help you create.

I get an achy feeling every time I see yet another suggestion that ignores powerful and effective writing because it breaks some rule learned in rule-going-school. I do think it’s good to understand the rationale of those edicts, but only apply them when the writing is limping, and the application of the rule hits the Vagus nerve as a clear step up. Y’ know, an “AH-AH!”

I have the tendency to use a lot of passive construction. I have acquired the discipline to minimize this proclivity in my fiction writing. This is a good thing, as my wonderful agent has a particular pet peeve regarding the passive voice. She and I agree that USE WITH CAUTION should guide professional writing.
But don't take it away from me when I write Emails, blog-posts, or even when I speak.
Something about being vague that I find comforting and less confrontational.

That is my point. The passive construction has a place. It is useful. Think of a film shot with a lot of fog. It’s mysterious and unclear and it is not the same film shot with a crisp lens.
wouldn't write a business proposal using passive construction. A clear and dynamic voice is important for such. But many a fiction story would benefit from some veiling.

I do think the phrase “a good time was had by all” is an example of misuse, so abuse of the passive voice is something I recognize.
I’m in the use-don't-abuse camp.


Karen Jones Gowen said...

Same with adverbs which have gotten a lot of bad rap lately. I know using too many -ly words isn't good but once in awhile, like passive voice, it's just the thing for flow and a touch of obscurity.

Kelly Hashway said...

I don't like to say "never" about any rule really because there is always the exception.

Johnell said...

I'm with you on this. There are times when passive voice adds the right understated humor for the moment or for the character.

Mirka Breen said...

"Understated"-- perfectly said, Johnell ;)

Vijaya said...

Mirka the rebel!

Mirka Breen said...

If you met me in person, you would never guess this meek and mild-mannered gal is so opinionated.

Yanting Gueh said...

I think it's good to know about the rules but not necessarily follow all of them . I've been warned against the adverb rule so many times and not-too-recently discovered I DO need/want to use the -ly words sometimes.

Anna Staniszewski said...

I think it's fine to break rules as long as you realize you're breaking them. Then you're doing it with a purpose and can use it to your advantage.

Marcia Strykowski said...

Everything in moderation is fine with me, especially when your character might prefer to speak in a passive manner. Let's break rules!