How horrible is passive voice?
Passive voice is boring. It informs but it doesn’t entertain, and it doesn’t influence the reader’s emotions. Readers come to us to feel, not to learn, so that matters. Readers don’t want to learn that the protagonist sees something. They want to know what has the character’s attention, what it is to them, why it’s meaningful, and what the protagonist thinks has to be done, and why. Passive voice is the storyteller leaning back in the chair, spreading her hands, and saying. “Sundays were when Charlie saw Susan. And pleasure was something he derived from their time together.” That’s as exciting as a rocking chair. But say, “Charlie saw Susan every Sunday, and he loved every moment of their time together,” and it’s active. The subject comes first to guide the reader. But reverse that and put the subject last and it’s like placing effect before cause. It can’t feel as if it's happening as we read. Passive voice can be useful to give a relaxed and non-hurried, pastoral feel. But, to boot a story into gear use active. It’s worth noting that while only one of the above versions is in passive voice, both versions are passive writing because nothing is happening. The reader is with the storyteller, not the character living the scene. We’re hearing about the situation, not living it. And that’s something to avoid, if possible, too.
@Yezall--I am curious about your original post. Is there an example from your prose that you'd show us? I'd love to take a look and see what you mean.
In fiction writing, all bets are off when it comes to style rules--I think it almost always depends on the sentence itself, and what exactly you are trying to convey.
Book Country Community and Engagement Manager
@Yezall: *gasp* you used a cliché! "..avoid it like the plague…" *throws stones at you*
I'm kidding Actually, I use passive voice more than I should and don't realize it, so when I go back to edit, I have to pay particular attention to this. I think a writer should only use passive voice when you don't have a definitive subject or when the direct object is more important than the subject is.
@Lucy: I agree with you on "it almost always depends on the sentence itself, and what exactly you are trying to convey."
I'm reading Joyland by Stephen King right now, and most everybody has heard him talk about adverbs as if they are a disease that sucks the life from your writing, but I found an adverb within the first few pages…I know just one adverb, but I found one! So, what you said Lucy, depends on what you need to accomplish. Moreover, King does say that using adverbs sparingly is fine (which I also think applies to passive voice, in my opinion):
"If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions."
Maybe I shouldn't be comparing the use of adverbs and passive voice, but my point is, understand the rules of style and grammar, but don't be afraid to ignore them once in awhile when you think it is necessary.
An accent would sound like a passive voice if you never heard the accent before; the Booktango and BookCountry guys needed to hear me on the phone so they could put the voice with the work. When it's a darker tone to the writing you almost need a both passive and active voice at the same time. The wording helps but what your subject matter you're exploring.