Friday, April 8, 2011

Writing Tools Part 3: Let's Get Physical... errr... Active, I Mean.

Passive Versus Active Voice

Remember back in my previous post when I wrote about revisions? This post has a very close relationship to that one. We're talking about tools that we, as writers, have in our toolboxes. We've talked about eloquent vocabulary, high-end grammar skills and strong verbs and nouns. Now we're going to talk about active and passive voice, which is directly related to strong verbs and nouns.

To put it bluntly, passive voice is for wussies. Passive voice whines on the page and blames everyone else for all of its problems. As a writer, you must destroy passive voice! I'm going to have some examples here in a second, but writing in passive voice pisses me off, so let me take a few deep breaths... there, all better. Okay, here is a passage that uses passive voice and let's add weak nouns and verbs for blandness and some adverbs and adjectives for nausea:

The car was being driven along the road quickly. Loving thoughts of Tom ran through Jane's head as the gravel hit the bottom of her car. The beating of her heart was like the bongos that Tom played in the jazz band. Once she was at Tom's house, her kisses would ignite his passion and their lovemaking would wear them out.

Wow. I'm so thrilled at this point I could vomit. Obviously, this is really crappy writing in the first place, but the passive voice turns it into a mushy bowl of Cream of Wheat.

If we make a few adjustments, though, we can salvage the sentences and maybe make it a bit more exciting.

Gravel tattooed the undercarriage of Jane's Mustang as she raced down the road toward Tom's mobile home. Her mind became a twisted playground of erotica and her heart thumped like Tom's jazz bongos as she contemplated shoving her tongue down his throat. She knew that when she locked lips with him that they would make love through the night and they would be overwhelmed with the exhaustion of lovers.

Meh. The writing still sucks. But at least we gave it some action, right? This is the difference between active and passive voice. In the first example, you have sentences that are like a limp-fish handshake. In the second example, the active voice grabs you by the lapels of your rental tux and shakes you like an overbearing father on prom night.

This is what has to happen with your writing. It's okay to go through and write the first draft and have sentences here and there that are in passive voice. The point of the first draft is to get the story down. Once you start the revision process, though, passive voice has to be flushed down the toilet. This is what it means to twist every sentence until it cries "Uncle!"

I realize this is a short post. I know you've grown accustomed to me rambling on and on, but I'm going to leave it at that and cover the rest of this in part four. Sometimes short and sweet is what makes the grade.

That's all for now.

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