What Does Passive Voice Mean In The Creative Writing Process?

Posted at 22:42pm on 21st January 2009

I received a piece of work, recently, with a request to look it over and comment on it. It has prompted me to write on the subject of Voice, and the merits (or otherwise) of how it is used. There’s a little bit of grammar instruction necessary here, but I will illustrate my point afterwards with something more creative and interesting. First let me explain the point:

A verb may be active, or inactive (in which case it is called ‘passive’).

WHAT IS A PASSIVE VERB?

Grammar: (yawn!)

The passive voice is formed with a past participle and the auxiliary verb to be. The easiest way to understand this is to think who or what is performing the action.

Example:

  • Active: Zoe was washing up. This is active, because Zoe (the subject of the verb) is performing the action, i.e. the washing up.
  • Passive: The washing up was being done by Zoe. This is passive because Zoe is being acted upon.

The Passive Voice in writing has its place. Now, consider this piece of writing (for copyright reasons, this is taken from my book, A Painful Post Mortem). Note the Active and Passive Voice.

Key:

  • Subject (bold)
  • OBJECT (CAPS)
  • Active Verb (Italic)
  • Passive Verb (underlined)

‘This your local?’ asked a spotty youth, whose pristine climbing boots had clearly never made contact with open ground.

‘Certainly not,’ Mark responded. ‘Extension of home. Just a short stagger across the village square!’

The boy laughed. It (i.e. the laughter) made MARK feel good.

He turned to the landlord and said, throwing his voice for the benefit of the three or four hill walkers clustered at the end of the bar: ‘Don’t see my name above the ruddy door yet, Len. Must have bought the place several times over with my custom.’

Len dutifully played stooge.

‘Haven’t seen the colour of your money for rent,’ he returned, cheerily reeling off an inventory: ‘Use of premises as registered office; exploitation of pub staff as go-between, message-takers and delivery boys; monopolisation of telephone in hall – Need I go on?’

To the hill walkers, for whom he was drawing pints of ale, he said, ‘Property tycoon, Mr StJohn. Better watch which route you’re walking. Might find Mark’s bought up Mam Tor from under your feet and bulldozed it to build a shopping mall.’

It was an incestuous and practised routine, whereby Mark and Len benefited, respectively, from increased consumption, and sales, of ale. The hill walkers laughed, and Mark paid for the first round of what would, undoubtedly, develop into a hardened drinking session at their expense.

NEXT TIME

This same piece of writing – as I’ll show you tomorrow – loses all its impact if written all in the Passive Voice.

Until then - here’s Wishing you Wonderful Writing

CLICK TO READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS OF A PAINFUL POST MORTEM. A NEW WINDOW WILL OPEN. YOU MAY NEED TO DOWNLOAD THE LATEST VERSION OF ADOBE.

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