Friday, November 9, 2012

Passive and Active Voice -The importance of understanding what it is.

NOTE: I obtained this with permission to re-post from the author. It was posted in their blog in a writers forum. It comes as little surprise this user's account was blocked and the blog posting was removed. Forums are not suited to freedom of speech. It might be a bit harsh and opinionated but I'm not sure it should have caused them to remove it and it's author.
What do you think?

Passive and Active Voice -The importance of understanding what it is.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a small problem identifying misplaced usages of either Passive or Active voice and that in many cases I am guilty of not paying attention to them. One certain eventuality is that in a critique forum it will come up and rear it’s head.

This is why it is clearly best to be prepared to accept my ignorance, regret my lack of diligence, and be thankful that I came forewarned and forearmed. Except remembering, in this forum I’m not allowed to shoot the ignorant messenger.

When addressing the issue of Passive and Active I first assumed I was being too sensitive to what was occurring. So, I did what I always do- research. Then I had the forethought to remember that I could address this best in a blog. Anger leads to the dark side and the ignorant are allowed to hide behind the rules, which were made to protect the forum from utter chaos.

I found some interesting articles and then I found some corresponding evidence on the web.

I was quite surprise when, for a change, wiki-had some extra help and guidance.…...

There is also an older article of enlightenment:…...
And lastly my old fav Grammar girl.

Some gems of note I found:
Many language critics and language-usage manuals discourage use of the passive voice.
This advice is not usually found in older guides, emerging only in the first half of the twentieth century.
In 1916, the British writer Arthur Quiller-Couch, criticized this grammatical voice.

This would mean that there is a lot of literature prior to 1916 that doesn’t even know of this guideline - and there is evidence even within the work of George Orwell, who thought he agreed with the guideline yet violated it as though it didn’t apply to him.

———Now days we have people who sweepingly proclaim these gems.————

Sometimes passive voice is awkward and other times it’s vague. Also, passive voice is usually wordy, so you can tighten your writing if you replace passive sentences with active sentences.

Most writing authorities agree that the active voice is both more engaging and easier to read than passively-constructed writing.

———-making the guideline.their rule of thumb——-

————————-Here’s my favorite—————————-

A recent study suggests that less educated people—those who dropped out of school when they were 16—have a harder time understanding sentences written in the passive voice than those written in active voice. We should stick with active voice if you’re writing for the general population.

——Can we think of a more creative way to say talk down to the reader ————-

——not to mention: we’re arrogant enough to believe we’ve trained them to expect things this way.—-

this guideline is partially based on this faulty example ::to paraphrase:

Strunk and White mis-apply the passive voice to several active voice to a tune of three out of the four.
“At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard” is correctly identified :

“There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground” no sign of the passive anywhere.

“It was not long before she was very sorry that she had said what she had,” also nothing passive.

“The reason that he left college was that his health became impaired,” not here.

——back to the issue at hand————

As some background I will point out the observation that in a critique forum we have a huge portion of us OCD people some of whom are obsessed with the flavor of the day. Choppy sentences were being targeted. Many followers were gained. The villain was Purple Prose. Riders were assembled for the posse. Tell becomes a victim to show. This goes on.

To be fair there are those of us who are obsessed with punctuation and grammar and spelling for the good of all. We are the do-good-ers who pave the way for a happy substantive edit. Although, sometimes we get just a bit over eager while forgetting that the victim (er… subject? author?) is intelligent enough to take a few examples and run with it. We the mighty ones are not happy until we squash all the offenders and repeat offenders with our red and blue. Sometimes happily creating a wonder that is bloated twice the size allotted for the original piece.

The problem is that our obsessiveness leaks over into the area of style. And style has guidelines not really rules. And there are exceptions that sometimes (check the above articles) even the style guide misses or fails to identify properly. This all leads to the author spending too much time fixing things that stand because we were jarred by what may have been a few legitimate lines of, in this case, passive passages.

What ultimately scares me here is that there are programs that help us authors to identify these offensive passages, which are based on faulty guidelines. So, It falls upon the us all to carefully go through and discover, which are offensive and, which stand as they are and, which are smack dab in the middle of the guideline that says we should use a passive here. I’ve seen many of us, in our enthusiasm, rewrite them all on the pretext of erring in the directions of caution.

What makes things difficult is there are rules that prevents the author from determining if I the critic who pointed out the problem even know all the guidelines or just some or if I am parroting what’s happened to me. There is no way to determine or verify this so it devolves on the author to realize that as he makes this seemingly more readable for me, he might be offending the intelligence of another. And I am hidden behind a notion that the author need make no changes if he so chooses. But, since he came for my advice, which I’ve so graciously given to him, he likely will do my bidding even if I haven’t done all our homework.

This, tied with backwards rule that I as a new person, one who might well need to learn more about these style guidelines, cannot post for critique until I have 30 post and those 30 post can easily be critiques of someone else work even though I’ve possibly never critiqued before. Basically I will learn the guidelines while critiquing and after giving 30 I’ll learn more from those who were, at best, self taught the way I am. That’s not to say that when I reach a 1000 post or 10s of thousands that I might have done my homework, because I might not realize there is homework yet to do.

This adherence to flawed guidelines as though they are rules does not confine itself to just this small example. It extends into such things as purple prose, show versus tell,use of cliche’s, and onto the length of individual lines of prose. I have heard the whole gamut criticized. Too many long sentences and then two many short choppy sentences and then too much alternating between long and short. That last is clearly wrong yet there is a highly numbered poster who is constantly complaining of that and saying a scene should have the same style of sentence structural length throughout meaning most if not all longs or shorts when clearly its recommended that for the smoothest flow there should be a balanced mix.

So the guideline followers can’t even follow the guidelines.

What makes me deeply afraid here is that this environment is a quick and easy way to remove creative, from writing. There have been other attempts to create mass productive writer shops that would profess to produce many writers of equal high caliber skill. The problem is that they would all speak with one voice and the truly creative part of writing will be lost. Not to mention the lack of proper understanding of the real guidelines and that they are guidelines.

Every writer wishes to come up with the new - never before thought of idea that will hook the reader, the editor, the agent, the publisher. That’s not the only place where writing is creative. In fact some sources will have us believe that there are no new plot ideas. For something fresh and new, personal style and voice are the best place to start and I constantly see those two discouraged and given second and third row seats (often pushed into the nose bleed section) with the hope they will eventually leave the auditorium.

This is not to say that there is no place for a critique forum. It can do wonders to help locate many problems that I can’t see in my own writing. What it will not do is prepare me to publish my own ideas with my own style. It will show me the value of a simple edit by other eyes. There is no way for the forum to complete this edit job on any given work so its not that much help with grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Those will all be fixed during the real edit cycle in the real world anyway.

Most of all it will allow me to stroke my ego by thinking I am helping.

And it’s taught me the value of doing my homework before I try to help everyone else or let them help me.

Nov 8 2012 —Egregious GhostWriter

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