I know that all of you who have been following along since[intlink id="3292" type="post"] Let’s Have Fun Wiring | Practice[/intlink], are now well beyond the painful cramping lobster claws and are grabbing time stingily every day to write.
Kudos! You are well on your way to a fruitful habit.
We dove into the definition of [intlink id="3326" type="post"]creative writing[/intlink] last week and I promised that this time afloat we would tackle the active versus passive voice. I am not a taught student of writing, so I had to trudge through a lot of research to attempt a worthwhile stab at this post. I genuinely hope that you will absorb as much from this as I did, because the fundamental concept of writing in an active voice is gargantuan to our efforts in telling our stories.
Successfully getting our point across hinges on how we juggle the subject, object, and the elusive cool verbs in our sentence. How we handle these three outstanding citizens will determine if our writing flows flowery into an opium field, lulling our readers into a coma, or if it tasers said readers awake with zaps of high voltage, leaving their brains tingling.
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We’ll fire on the active voice side of the street first; not only because I am lazy, but we’ll get a couple of dandy examples we can carry over to the sleepy prose of passive voice.
Here are two basic, but sound, examples of active voice: Amber slapped Jim. Simple, neat, and damn clean. Amber (subject) slapped (verb) Jim (object). Through her action, our subject becomes the focus of this popping sentence. The car slid off the road. Once again, we are supplying an activity for our subject and the message is very clear, if not a bit edgy.
I will twist up the next example by giving you the active voice version of a title to one of my favorite Blue Oyster Cult songs. I am doing this to demonstrate, in a few short steps ahead, that on rare occasions, passive voice works better than active voice. The active version of the title would read like You Warned Me Of Me. Subject, verb, and object; the three drinking partners in every sentence.
Passive voice is exactly what it says; our sentences become passive and nearly non-effective. When the object is moved ahead of the subject that kick ass verb we scratched our heads over gets knocked to the canvas for the count. Our prose gets overstuffed with needless words and the images we are trying to paint become diluted.
Remember above when you almost felt the smack of Amber’s hand as she struck Jim? There was an immediacy that made you stand up and take notice. What happens to that smack when we write it like this? Jim was slapped by Amber. I don’t know about you, but I suddenly feel like a measure of time has passed since Amber slapped Jim and when we are told about it. Hell, they may even have made up, been married, sprouted three brats and gotten divorced since that slap happened. Perform the same exercise with the sentence, the car slid off the road, and you’ll see that instead of being there when the event occurred, you feel detached from the whole scene.
Really, I mean REALLY, we want to avoid making wet noodles out of what should be firecracker verbs and keep our readers interest in the story. By paying attention and making our sentences zing with activism we tighten up our writing. And here’s another cool bonus; active voice allows our subjects to tell the story for us, which is one step closer to making the whole thing real.
We paint when we write and we need our images to be crisp and tangible, not flaccid and lifeless. But passive voice isn’t always the wrong choice. Take the BOC song title example in the Active voice definition. You Warned Me Of Me changes to I Am The One You Warned Me Of. Not only does the passive voice version (the actual title, btw) sound better, but it is part of the song’s verse, so this is one good example where passive would trump active.
Another item to watch for is how we use the passive in a box verb, be. By its nature, be is a flat, lazy verb because there is no action even remotely implied. But, that doesn’t mean that a sentence with be or any form of be (was, were, am, are, is, being, been) is automatically a passive voiced affair. I am slapping Jim around is active voice, where that passive version would be, Jim is being slapped around by me.
The bottom line is, let your subject control the action and your writing will be snappy and throw down unforgettable images that will tickle your readers’ vision.
Can you think of other examples where passive voice would be more appropriate than active voice? If so, drop them in the comments box below.
Next week, Let’s Have Fun Writing will tackle the mighty megaphors.