I was doing edits – the problem with Passive Voice

The first sentence that popped in my mind was “I was doing edits on Saturday and I was getting them done, slowly.” Then I really thought about it. Passive voice reigns in that sentence. And not in a good way. What I really want to say is “Saturday I did some editing.” Totally different sentence. Same idea gets across but doesn’t sound quite so wimpy. I got something accomplished and didn’t beat around the bush to tell you.

This is what I’m working on in When Love Waits. The story is good, it moves forward, there’s plenty of tension – sexual and otherwise – and it is a complete draft. But there are some of those wimpy, passive voice sentences still lurking. I’ve been lucky to have some talented writers look at my work. My current critique partner (CP) has made gave some fantastic suggestions and really made me take a step back and look at my writing from an editorial viewpoint.

After reading the suggestions of my CP, I realized I have to take a step back. I keep letting myself get getting sucked back into the story.  It’s tough to force myself to look at this as if performing surgery. What’s the purpose, is it important to the overall body of work, can it be made better? These are questions I need to constantly ask myself as I go back through the manuscript. I need to look at my characters through a microscope and imagine the scene in my head to see if it makes sense.

Apparently, my favorite thing to do is write in passive voice and have my characters “decide” to do something. They don’t need to decide, they just need to do! Instead of “She was thinking about moving back to the area, it might be for the best.” my character should say “Moving back to the area would be best.” There, thinking done; she’s doing.

Passive voice is difficult for me to catch and correct because I’ve noticed I talk and think this way too. I don’t know if that’s because other books or written that way or if being strong and forthright with your goals or tasks is frowned upon by society as too “forward”. Whatever the case may be, it has permeated my thinking, speaking and writing.

And it has to stop. I don’t want wimpy characters who think wimpy thoughts and let things happen to them. They need to be active in their environment. They need to take charge and go for whatever it is they want. But the way the story is written Sentence structure will affect whether or not they are able to do that.

The words can’t totally be excised from my vocabulary. They do have their uses. But, has, had, was, were, to be, really need to be watched closely to make sure they don’t escape into the manuscript too often. I would rather have my characters active than passively thinking about if they need to decide to do something sometime later.

What little mischievous grammar/structure goblins creep into your writing?

Have a great week!

Melanie

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4 thoughts on “I was doing edits – the problem with Passive Voice

  1. Fab post Melanie. I end up with a lot of passive voice in my first drafts and in fact the first thing I do before starting revisions is a search and destroy of my weak words. I don’t catch all of them nor do I change all of them but it helps get me into the editing mind set. And you know what? The more I read (beta or otherwise) the less I see the passive showing up in first drafts. For example the story I’m revising now is an old one and the passive voice is awful. But the, still unfinished, fantasy piece I worked on during NaNo isn’t too bad. Now whether that is a first person vs. third person scenario I don’t know yet but I see the two-three year difference in my process.

    Happy editing 🙂

    1. That’s awesome Raelyn! I haven’t looked at last years NaNo draft to see how much passive voice prevails. It’s encouraging to hear it gets easier with more work. Some days it overwhelms me, but I do have some days where search and destroy is an appropriate description of how I attack the ms and sometimes I even amaze myself with how much better a sentence sounds. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. In my early drafts of my manuscript, I used too much passive voice too. It’s because we are taught to be polite and conscientious in society. Unless trained well we slip into this habit when writing too.

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