Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Active Voice - the Voice of God

From Phil Phantom’s: Guide to Writing Good Trash"
I know, you hate to think of your writing as trash, but if done well, others will. If done poorly, your magnificent creation is just crap, shit, or garbage. Excellent trash can rise to the level of good shit, but you and your good shit will never be studied in English Lit. As for riches, sure, but it helps if you are wealthy when you start.

ACTIVE Voice - the Voice of GOD
In the writing world we have two kinds of voice: Passive and Active.

Passive voice is for wimps, fairies, and limp-wristed momma's boys.

Active voice is the voice of power, action, and drive. Active voice knocks you on your ass, kicks you in the balls, rips out your heart, shows the bleeding pumper to you, then spits in your fucking face while squeezing you to death.

Guess which voice we write in?

That's right.

Active voice is direct, to the point, no nonsense, cut and dry.

God speaks in the active voice. God didn't say, "Thy neighbors wife shall not be coveted by you." Hell no, He said, "Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's wife." If God wrote the Ten Commandments in the passive voice, they would sound like the Ten Suggestions. When He writes like a God, you know you'd best not covet your neighbor's ass, neither.

When you write in the active voice, the subject of your sentence does the acting. The subject precedes an action verb. The English language is full of rich action verbs. We even have nouns that serve duty as action verbs - finger, for one.

You tell me. Which is stronger?

Mary was fingered by John.
John fingered Mary.

You can tell passive voice because it sounds like the minutes of a meeting. Check it out:
The minutes of the last meeting were read by Mr. Dudley. The chair was then turned over to his wife, Ann. The meeting hall was suddenly entered by a lion and all hell broke loose. Mr. Dudley's wife was pounced upon by the lion. She was dragged by the butt into a corner and was then eaten whole. The meeting was adjourned in short order.
Now, lets check out the active voice version:
Mr. Dudley read the minutes from the last meeting, then handed the chair over to his wife, Ann. A lion burst into the room. All hell broke loose. The lion pounced on Ann, bit her on the butt, dragged her ass to a corner, and ate her hole. We adjourned the meeting, ASAP.
Now, which version do you think God would like?

God is a busy deity. He writes no more than he has to, and reads no more than he must. The active voice version had fifty-three words, the passive had sixty-five. That's not the main reason God liked it. The active voice version conveyed the real excitement created by a large predator disturbing a boring meeting.

In almost all cases, active voice is better. In the active version, we replaced a vague "It" with a person, "the author." We replaced the wasteful "was written" with a single action verb, "wrote." The author wrote. The active version was tight and clear. All writing should be tight and clear.

Passive voice sentences sneak into your writing like enemy agents infiltrating your AO, weakening your power, causing confusion, misdirection, and creating chaos. After you write something, you must go back and ferret-out those insidious, passive, godless, commie bastards of the passive voice brigade.

Look for the "to be" verb: am, is, are, was, were. These verbs replace action verbs and usually travel with IT, THEY, THOSE, and THERE. Get 'em outta there. Kill 'em. Stomp the crap outta of 'em.

If you see something like this:
  • There are many crabs in my shorts.
Change it to something like this:
  • Crabs infest my shorts!
Isn't that better, tighter, clearer?

The first sounds like a simple observation; the second conveys urgency. The exclamation point fits the second but not the first, and a situation like that which I just described should be followed by an exclamation point. Don't you agree?

Remember, clearly identify your subject, then make the subject do the acting unless the subject is being acted upon.

"Ann was eaten by the lion" is passive, but so was Ann at the time. If the author tells Ann's story, passive voice fits. Now, if the lion is the subject of the story, that sentence would suck. We'd want the story from the lion's perspective. We don't care about old biddies in a lion story. "The lion ate Ann!" Far out. Eat dat bitch! Am I right?

Now, you're catching on. We want action, right? We don't want no panty-waist, mamby-pamby, beat-around-the-bush, word-wasting, bombastic verbosity, now do we?
From Phil Phantom’s: “Guide to Writing Good Trash"(Click article title to read the whole thing.)

Morgan Hawke

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