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Passive voice

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Lisselle, May 15, 2017.

  1. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

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    :)

    No, not usually. What Yoda does do, however, is reasonably consistently "front the object". We do this all the time in normal convo, and when we do it, it is usually done for emphasis. You just put the Patient or object in front of the Agent or subject.

    You might hear someone in an office say something like "Many things I've done for you over the course of my years here, but that I will not do for you!" The word order here is now OSV.

    The usual, non-emphatic SVO word order would simply be "I've done many things for you..." and "I will not do that for you".

    Yoda, possibly because of influence from his native language, tends to place the Patient before the Agent.

    Keep in mind that passive voice is about flipping the roles that the Agent and Patient play. Here in Yodaspeak, the roles remain unchanged.
     
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  2. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

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    Upon further googling, I concede your point. It seems I was confusing subject with actor/agent.

    Interestingly, everywhere I looked, the subject of a sentence is defined as something along the lines of "the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being something", but the moment passive voice comes into play, this definition no longer applies.
    It doesn't seem like a terribly good definition if it is not consistent.
     
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  3. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

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    I think this is because that's not really what a "subject" is; rather this is what the "agent" is. Agency is a relationship between the one who is doing (the Agent) and the action being done (the Verb). Subject is a relationship between things (the subject of the verb and the objects) and is more a matter of word order, case inflection and so forth.

    When the verb is active or middle, the subject and agent are identical.

    When the verb is passive, the subject and agent are not the same.

    I guess the key point is that no matter where it comes in the sentence, the agent is the one that's doing the action, whether it's the subject or object of the verb.
     
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  4. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    This is why I grabbed my forehead when in one of the prequels Yoda said, "Begun, the War of the Clones has." (Not that i wasn't grabbing my forehead through all of them anyway.)

    JUST NO.

    "War of the Clones; begun, it has."

    Hire a freakin' conlanger to keep your dialects straight, George. I'm available.
     
  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I don't know; how much splitting of hairs do we want, heh?

    The sky was ... dark.

    The sky was ... darkened by low-hanging storm clouds ready to burst.


    It's that "being something" part that trips people up. Being in a state of "being dark" or "being darkened"...This is probably why so many confuse the mere use of a verb of being with passive voice.

    Then there are the mild cases like

    The door was made of wood.

    The door was made...by zombies? Yes, it's passive voice. But readers might not instantly wonder who made the door; they read it like, "The door was wooden."

    The pool was filled with clear spring water.

    The pool was filled...by zombies? Again, yes, it's passive, but another mild case.

    Both of the last two describe a state of being. The door and the pool are the subjects of those sentences. The agents are unknowns: Who made the door? Who/what filled the pool? (Maybe the spring filled it, or natural forces. But on the other hand, someone may have built a channel or other device to direct the water to this pool.)

    This sort is the easiest to overlook. On the one hand, this is less problematic; but on the other hand, they may be more of a problem, insofar as an author might do this a lot without realizing she's slipped into passive voice.
     
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  6. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Why would I try to steer you from something that might improve your writing? By all means learn all the rules, all the in's and out's, and all the ways to dissect a sentence. But don't go carrying the weight of, my writing is passive and therefore must be improved. It could be that passive is the right voice for the right scene for the right place in the story. And there are many reasons to use it, such as mood setting, tone, voice and story flow. If the sentence is doing its job, don't think it needs to be fixed just because it might be passive. I fear you have let these grammar tools tell you something that may not be true. You have to learn to trust your own judgment on these things. The confidence to write is more valuable than a software package. You are writing well. I did not read your story with the intent to dissect it, so maybe I could dissect it a bit, but I also did not see any glaring areas where the writing was poor. Believe in yourself.
     
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  7. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Would you really want Lucas to go back and re-edit his films again?
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Or postulate that a 900 year old intelligent being would be able to piece together sentences in the proper order for a given language :D
     
  9. ^^These are not the prequels you're looking for. --Move along.
     
  10. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    That's your context. In that context, if I were the writer, I might have done the same thing you did. In a different context, I might have done the same thing still, or I might have made the sentence active to reveal the actor. It's reasonable that the running child would not take the time to think about who exactly knew the city by another name. So the passive voice is a good choice for expressing that thought, if indeed the running child is to have the thought at all.

    I am still compelled to defend the computer program. Like I said before, it is the job of the program to point out potential issues. But don't rely on the program 100%, as others have said. If the program tells you something questionable, then do like you did here, and ask others. If you get lots of opinions, it can help you form your own. Ultimately, you have to do what you think best, regardless of what others say or what the program says.

    In the end, one sentence isn't likely to make or break your story. The pervasive use of passive voice is more likely to break your story. When readers read for enjoyment, they typically aren't worrying about whether you wrote in the passive voice or active voice. They just want an entertaining experience. They will fly by that one sentence in less time than it took you to write it. As long as it does nothing to interrupt the flow of their reading, then you're good.

    One more thing: sometimes a computer program will flag something as an issue, and tell you what it thinks the issue is, but there could be something else going on there too....

    To be thinking about the city's naming history while running says something about the child and the situation the child is in, and you have to consider that. Readers will build a different image of that child versus one who is only focused on the running (e.g., the motivation for running, the destination, how to elude those in pursuit). Every bit of text you write can contribute to the underlying subtext, i.e., the words you don't write but are implied by the ones you do. Readers such as myself enjoy a story with a well-crafted, supportive subtext. The decisions you make as to what sentences to include where, and whether a given sentence is written in the passive or active voice, all impact your story's subtext, and that to me is a huge if not the prime consideration when making these kinds of decisions.
     
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  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    So I cracked open F. Herbert's Dune last night to see what I could see, and this was the third paragraph:

    The old woman was let in by the side door down the vaulted passage by Paul's room and she was allowed a moment to peer in at him where he lay in his bed.​

    Had this been a different type of book, maybe that old woman really would have been let in by zombies and allowed by zombies to peer in at Paul.

    The interesting thing for me is that this use gives me the impression that there are "people," unnamed, numberless, and faceless who take care of such things. It could have been written differently: The house guard let the old woman in...and allowed her a moment to peer in at him. But this might raise the question of why the house guard (or whoever) feel the need to allow her such freedom or whether they are being a little lax. I.e., the reader's attention or focus would shift to an agent that's not particularly important to the scene. We find out shortly that Paul's mother is with the old woman; maybe she's the agent who allowed the old woman to peer in? But by this time, the focus has moved on.

    I cracked open the first Mistborn novel and didn't find any use of the passive voice in the first few pages. (May have missed something, because I skimmed fast.)

    Re: using software to catch passive voice. Sure, why not? You can decide what to do or whether to do anything about cases that are "found" (true or false positives.) I ran a text search on my browser for the Challenges page that has the story in question, for all instances of "was," and most of them were not passive voice, but I did find more instances than the single case mentioned in this thread. Not a lot, and nothing that seemed incredibly problematic in that story.

    However, I think we can sometimes wonder or ask ourselves whether an "unproblematic" or "ok" passage can be made better, or a good passage be made a great passage. I suspect that changing a line of passive voice into active voice can actually make something a little worse (depending on the change that we make.) But sometimes just trying to rework a passage into active voice might make an ok bit of narrative even better. You might not know until you try.
     
  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    In case anyone would find this useful, you can set MS Word to detect passive voice. It'll put a green squiggly line beneath, and for the most part it's accurate. On occasion though, it'll flag something that's simply a state of being because you used a word like was or were.

    I used this proofing tool, training myself to write actively. Now it's second nature & I choose when to use passive voice to attempt an effect.
     
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  13. Lisselle

    Lisselle Minstrel

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    Thank you so much. :)


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
     
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  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Like every -ly adverb, passives are little markers asking to be looked at for improvement. There are piles of these markers.

    Personally I wouldn't leave the passives like Herbert did... but you are correct in them lending a different feel to the context of the statements. One could say, the servants who "let" and "allow" are anonymous, faceless, beneath note culturally even, not to mention unimportant to the story. Of course, Herbert might have just written it passive without a care for passive, I've no idea.

     
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  15. bdcharles

    bdcharles Minstrel

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    I agree. However I wonder sometimes if when people suggest that some writing is "too passive" they mean the below. I think that because I see far more of the below than passive voice.

    Again I agree. I think writing in the passive voice can actually lend a certain gravitas to the prose. But what bogs writing down, to me, is when I get a large block of text telling me what something was, rather than what something did, and as I say, that to me seems a far more common and pressing concern. Just a thought to help clarify any confusion really :)
     
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  16. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Was, were, and had are often overused even when not passive, but passive is over diagnosed even by writing instructors. Passive lending gravitas? I don't know about that. Unless you consider a "narrative voice" to have gravitas.

    There are many things worse than passive, that's for sure. Huge blocks of "photograph" description, for instance.

    It should also be noted that some high end instructors will use the term passive for things other than the strict definition of passive voice. They know the difference, but still hammer with the passive term.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2017
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  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Because of this thread, I've had agency, agency, agency on the brain. Perhaps the issue can be reduced to how we handle agency, the wherefore of it.

    Also, how we create focus for the reader. I've been wondering if readers are a little like the fictional T-Rex from Jurassic Park: as long as you didn't move, he couldn't see you. I wonder if our attention gravitates toward the agent and agency.
     
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  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    It may have been writer's instinct or the result of lots of practice, voice.

    There's more happening in those first few paragraphs. He's withholding information, creating a little mystery to hook the reader, also.
     
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  19. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    It's a bit like when Stephen King uses an -ly adverb, does he consciously say "I'm going to be lazy here?" heh heh. Always fun to get in a King jab.
     
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  20. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

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    De gustibus. Writing that's all action is like reading a bullet point outline. Not much going on, really. Just give me the Cliff Notes already!

    I like good meaty chunks of "photographic description". Nothing better! I like to be able to see what the storyteller is seeing in his own mind & imagination, whether it's places or internal struggles / thought process or history of a place or digressions into some interesting tidbit that's not necessarily related to the plot.
     
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