Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Being a Passive Aggressive Writer

Not the kind that "accidently-on-purpose" forgets to write with aim of punishing crit partners, beta readers or agents......although it does sound like an interesting secondary character now doesn't it?  I mean by and large most writers are a little batty but what about one that was really batty?  (Note to Self: File this idea for later use).

No I mean the SuperWriter.  The Champion of Chapters.  The Guardian of Gramma.  The Scurge of Soggy Middles.  The Purger of Passive Voice!

Writing passive sentences is a mistake common to new writers but it's a stylistic error - not a grammatical one.  I do it all the time and I'm constantly re-reading my work and doing the old palm to forehead thing.   Surprisingly, a passive sentence is quite easy to spot (once you know what to look for) but when you're typing at a squagillion miles a minute, desperately trying to get down that scene or conversation or setting, it's easy for a few passive villains to sneak in.  Their aim is to weaken your writing, infiltrating it from the inside and steal your opportunity to write something powerful and strong.

I thought about going into all the intricacies and casually tossing about words like past participle, and subject and object and other hugely impressive words but I think I should leave that to the professionals.  So try this handout from the University of North Carolina and this post from the wizards over at edittorrent (a blog well worth bookmarking if you ask me).  They ought to set you on the right path.

The worst outcome of writing passively is that your work ends up being a monument to 'telling' as opposed to showing.  Now that could mean that your baby ends up on university english course lists across the country - for all the wrong reasons!  I mean who wants some erudite English Professor holding up your book and proclaiming "This is the finest example of what NOT to write ever written!"? 

Politics is one of those things I decided not to get into on this (or any) blog but it is interesting to note that most political speeches contain a lot of passive voice eg "things must be done" and "it can be achieved" etc.

I'm off to seek and destroy all the useless passive sentences in my ms.  I'd post a piccie of me with my undies on the outside and a tea towel around my shoulders and a capital P on my front but I think you'd probably lose your lunch. 0_0


Lacey Devlin said...

Good luck with your seek and destroy ;)

Jackie Ashenden said...

You should definitely post that piccie!! I want to see Super Writer in action! :-)

Elissa Graham said...

Thanks Lacey!

Jackie - you madam are obviously a glutton for punishment! Once that image was burnt into your retina for life, you'd be up for a fortune in therapist costs. I love you too much to do that to you. Use that wonderful imagination of yours and just picture some fabulous model in the outfit instead. I'll be Super (Ghost) Writer :)

Maisey said...

Bah! I totally posted a comment here the other day. It's gone!

Elissa, you rock and I want to have tea with you.

Elissa Graham said...

Tea, coffee, whatever you want - I'd drink the water my socks have been soaking in if it meant having it with you!

You're such a sweetie.