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“Passive” Mania Blues

By Loretta Eidson

I’m a high school graduate who majored in Home Economics and Math. English and Literature weren’t necessary to me at the time. Remembering how to dissect a sentence or conjugate a verb lasted about as long as ice cream on a hot summer day.

So goes active voice and passive voice. Oh, my! Wish I’d paid more attention. How do I dredge up lost data from my high school days? Becoming a writer was the furthest thing on my mind when I graduated. Can you relate, or is it just me?

It wasn’t until I married and had children that the desire to write welled up inside me. After many tries at submissions and multiple critiques pointing out passive voice, it became apparent I had to revert to learning the basics again.

I’ve attended writing conferences and scribbled notes as fast as my fingers could jot down the speakers’ examples. Utilizing resources like The Bedford Handbook by Diana Hacker and Cutting the Passive Voice by Dianne E. Butts has helped me stay focused.

My Southern brain wanted to write the way I talk, and I’m not insinuating every southerner speaks or writes like me. I’m only confessing my Deep South jargon, be it right or wrong. However, once I realized slang words weren’t grammatically correct, I made adjustments and corrected my speech.

After writing and rewriting my manuscript, I thought I’d mastered passive voice issues. In fact, I discovered the word “as” and quickly integrated it into my writing. Yay! I found a word that helped me move my sentences along. Hmm, not so! Keep reading!

It wasn’t until I had the first four chapters of my first manuscript edited by a professional that the thrill of using “as” in my sentences . . . uh, approximately 1,500 times . . . Came to a screeching halt. Yes, I’m serious. This discovery sent me back to my novel where I started a line-by-line edit.

Oh, the grueling hours of restructuring sentences and removing the misused forms of “as.” If only we had a comprehensive list of verb combinations that makes sentences passive. I found a few to share:

To be (is, are, am, was, were, has been, have been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a past participle—a verb form usually ending in -‘ed.’

Examples:

is going to be watched     is taken    was read     were told      will be cleaned

by whom were you taught    was faxed   was painted    is raised    is being signed    have been shipped

The package was mailed by Judy. -Passive Voice

Judy mailed the package. –Active Voice

And to stir more mud in my already murky understanding, I found out not every sentence that contains a form of “have” or “to be” is passive voice. What? Could it get any more confusing?

In addition to my passive voice dilemma, using correct punctuation is vital. News alert: I am the comma queen. Since my southern drawl pauses in unusual places, I tend to help my reader take those pauses along with me, which doesn’t always work when writing a novel. (sigh)

Have I learned it all? No way! I utilize reference books, the wisdom of my critique partners, search word phrases online and use cheat sheets consistently.

Someone asked why I put myself through such torture. I merely smiled and responded, “I love to write, and with each piece, I learn more, and my writing improves.”

What about you? Have you mastered active voice and passive voice?

Loretta Eidson writes romantic suspense. She was a double finalist in the 2017 Daphne du Maurier contest, won second place in the 2017 Catherine, first place in her genre in the 2014 Novel Rocket Contest, a 2013 and 2015 semi-finalist in ACFW’s Genesis contest, and finalist in ACFW’s 2014 Genesis. Visit Loretta on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

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6 Responses to “Passive” Mania Blues

  1. It’s true that active voice makes writing seem more immediate, but passive voice has its place! The writer who mixes them seamlessly and appropriately has mastered both. As for commas? They seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate! Nice post, Loretta!

  2. Thank you, Tamela. My commas are disappearing and I learn more with each piece. Being a writer has its challenges, but for me, it’s fun and rewarding to see the finished work.

  3. DiAnn Mills says:

    Love it, Loretta! To use our God-given gift of writing, we have to learn the craft!

  4. Loretta! Everyone loves your southern voice! 🙂 And how I relate to as…and commas…which I’ve replaced with…

    Loved this post!

  5. I was also a home ec major, but I did choose English as my minor because I loved writing. I taught Home Ec for 20+ years but my master’s was in curriculum with an emphasis on English. This was so I could teach English at the college level. So, I thought I knew all about writing, but was I wrong.

    All the things you mentioned were problems for me as well. Commas are a nemesis, and passive voice reared its ugly head.

    We’re challenged, Loretta, but as long as w are willing to learn and change, we will succeed. Never stop learning. Great post, Loretta.

  6. Loretta, I had a double major–English and chemistry–and neither of them did me a lot of good in either of my professions. I sort of smiled internally when I was told that I’d have to re-learn how to write again in order to have anything of mine published. But it was true. Thanks for sharing.