Sometimes, he shares what another blogger has to say about “passive voice” that isn’t passive.

Should You Eliminate Was From Your Writing? Why Sometimes “the Rules” Are Wrong.

Every now and then, I look through various writing boards on Pinterest and find links to useful articles on the mechanics of writing. Every now and then, I see an article that gives Really Bad Advice(tm) in the form of “rules” that aren’t even good guidelines.

This is not one of those times.

A lot of internet writing gurus (and lazy-ass English teachers, etc.) will tell you that all uses of to be verbs are passive. (They’d tell you the previous sentence is passive, and this one, too.) They’re wrong. The sad thing is that it isn’t even difficult to tell when a sentence is passive. Remember the “zombie test“? (If you can add by zombies after the verb and have the sentence make sense, it’s passive. Otherwise, it isn’t.)

Says blogger Anne R. Allen,

Your well-meaning mentors told you “was” is “passive,” so you must avoid it at all costs, along with adverbs, run-on sentences, and naming all of your characters “Bob”.

The people who told you this were repeating “The Rules” they heard from their own critique groups, beta readers, and workshop leaders when they started writing.

The problem is: they were wrong.

She then goes on to explain the other uses of to be verbs, the ones that aren’t passive voice at all. There’s also an excellent point made about past perfect tense and why you shouldn’t overdo it when writing flashbacks. (This is the tendency for some writers to write that a character had done whatever, every time a verb is used in the flashback, because the flashback is in the past of the past-tense narration. Don’t do that. It’s clunky, awkward, and probably the reason why some lazy-ass Writing Expertz say never to use had at all, under any circumstances.)




About Thomas Weaver

For several years, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom (editor). I'm physically disabled, and I currently live with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have eight cats. I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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7 Responses to Sometimes, he shares what another blogger has to say about “passive voice” that isn’t passive.

  1. annerallen says:

    Thanks for the shout-out. I love the “by zombies” rule!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. M. Oniker says:

    Both articles are excellent. So, it is ok to name all of your characters Bob?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Passive voice is very useful in business writing, especially when you don’t want to assign blame.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. “Complicated rules to adjust behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles.” Mary Wollstonecraft

    Liked by 1 person

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