Passive Verbs?

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NamoNakiMichi
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Fri Oct 18, 2019 12:26 am Post

I am wondering about your opinions regarding the total elimination of all passive verbs in place of active verbs? I am trying to do this, but sometimes after doing so, the sentences just don't feel or read right to me. Do any of you feel that there is a place in published fiction for some use of passive verbs?

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auxbuss
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Fri Oct 18, 2019 9:06 am Post

There's nothing wrong with the passive voice in fiction.

That first sentence is an example. As is that one. ...

Orwell is often quoted in this context: ““Never use the passive where you can use the active.” (From his essay Politics and the English Language.) Rarely is the following paragraph attached: “I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”

Keep in mind that we live in the passive, mostly, so it's a natural voice when expressing thought in fiction.

Obviously, if you are writing poetry, news articles, marketing blurb, etc. then the active is preferable.
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rdale
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Fri Oct 18, 2019 2:21 pm Post

I've observed that concepts like, "Never use adverbs!" and "Never write in passive voice!" are for students who need to learn lessons that they won't unless given strict guidelines, where infractions against those guidelines risks a reduced grade. They're good exercises, but as with all things in language, there are limits to their application beyond which they degrade one's writing rather than improving it.
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NamoNakiMichi
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Fri Oct 18, 2019 11:15 pm Post

rdale wrote:I've observed that concepts like, "Never use adverbs!" and "Never write in passive voice!" are for students who need to learn lessons that they won't unless given strict guidelines, where infractions against those guidelines risks a reduced grade. They're good exercises, but as with all things in language, there are limits to their application beyond which they degrade one's writing rather than improving it.


So, you think the usage of some adverbs isn't a bad thing in fiction? I've always heard that you should rid your fiction of all adverbs, that they're a sign of weak writing skills.

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kewms
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Fri Oct 18, 2019 11:45 pm Post

You can break any "rule" you want, as long as you know what rule you're breaking, and why.

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JimRac
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Sat Oct 19, 2019 1:37 am Post

Hi NamoNakiMichi,

Take a close look at pages from the novels of a few writers you admire.

Mixed in here and there with the active, vibrant verbs, you'll find passive verbs. You'll find adverbs. Sometimes, lots of them.

And you'll find sentences structured in the passive voice, possibly when the author wants to direct your attention over here and away from there.

What kind of rules are these, if the writers you admire can break them so easily?

The answer: they're not rules. They're bowling bumpers for beginning writers. :)

None of the parts of speech are evil. Every sentence structure has its uses.

My advice is to take all writing advice with a grain of salt. Particularly when the advice is of the terse "never do this, always do that" variety. There is no such thing as never/always in fiction.

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Jim
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NamoNakiMichi
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Sat Oct 19, 2019 1:45 am Post

kewms wrote:You can break any "rule" you want, as long as you know what rule you're breaking, and why.

Katherine


Say I'm breaking it because I think adverbs read well, but that might not translate over to the readers and as a result my book doesn't sell. It's so difficult to gauge what should be a rule and what shouldn't be a rule.

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NamoNakiMichi
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Sat Oct 19, 2019 1:47 am Post

kewms wrote:You can break any "rule" you want, as long as you know what rule you're breaking, and why.

Katherine


What's your take on the ratio of Reading Ease and The Glue Index?

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kewms
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Sat Oct 19, 2019 2:32 am Post

I don't personally use either tool, so I don't know enough to comment on them.

I think JimRac's advice is good.

For any algorithm you're considering, see what it says about work that you admire.

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kewms
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Sat Oct 19, 2019 3:38 am Post

If you think adverbs read well as a general principle, you are mistaken and probably should avoid them until you understand why the rule exists.

If you have a specific sentence or paragraph that you think is more effective with an adverb than without it, that's a defensible choice.

Katherine
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Ahab
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Sat Oct 19, 2019 9:54 am Post

NamoNakiMichi wrote:
kewms wrote:You can break any "rule" you want, as long as you know what rule you're breaking, and why.

Katherine


Say I'm breaking it because I think adverbs read well, but that might not translate over to the readers and as a result my book doesn't sell. It's so difficult to gauge what should be a rule and what shouldn't be a rule.


For a good look at how adverbs affect book sales, open one of the Harry Potter books at random: Adverbs, Adverbs, Adverbs.

Most writing advice, especially in these interwebbily obfuscated days, comes from people parroting advice they've heard elsewhere but not completely understood.

So my advice is, read writing advice skeptically. Spend more time reading writers whose work you admire, and think about why you admire it. Why this word and not that? Why do these paragraphs seem to be saying something simply and declaratively while stealthily saying something quite different? Something that will become blindingly apparent six chapters on?

I was an acquisitions editor for 30 years, and never once rejected a manuscript because the writer used adverbs or semicolons. Though I've rejected plenty because he or she used adverbs or adjectives or nouns or verbs badly, or unnecessarily.