A Simple Way to Detect Passive Voice

A good grammar book will tell you what ‘passive voice’ is much better than I, but I’ll give it a go.  Briefly, it’s when the subject is having something done to it (passive), rather than doing something (active).  So what?  I hear you ask.  Well, in order to gain maximum reader engagement, you need maximum reader involvement.  The more action, the more your reader is ‘living’ your story, making it irresistable.

Passive voice describes things in a way that leaves the reader standing outside the story looking in, aware they are watching a scene unfold before them rather than losing themselves in it.  At first, I didn’t think this would make that much difference to me as a reader, but in reading through my own work after I’d put it away for a while, I really noticed the shift in my reading consciousness and level of engagement with the story.

So when I’m rewriting, passive construction is one of the first things I look out for.  I don’t look at every sentence and ask myself if there’s an active subject in it.  While I might have been OK at English at school, I mostly do things by feel.  If it feels right, then it is right.  I’m lucky enough not to have too much of a problem with grammar – cheers to my primary school education, despite moving schools mid way through my primary years!

I look out for any form of the word ‘be’, including ‘was’ and ‘is’.  If it’s with the past participle of a verb, it’s passive voice, but I don’t spend time trying to work that out.  When I spot the ‘be’ words, I just try and find another way of writing the sentence.  And do you know, I get the most amazing work at the end of it?  More action, more excitement, more plot.

Which is kind of ironic, considering all those self-help books I read tell me to stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’.


Alas, no capitals

I was on a theatre site the other day, and noticed that someone had posted without using capitals.  In response, another person had commented about the poster’s grammatical imperfections, indicating they couldn’t be successful until this was rectified.  As there weren’t many grammatical errors as such (maybe a missing apostrophe or two), I could only surmise that the commentor’s problem was with the lack of capitals.  Apparently, according to the commentor, the post was unprofessional.

Some of you may have noticed that I don’t use capitals when I comment or email in a social context.  I love not using capitals – there’s something about the informality of it that relaxes me.  I’ve done it almost since I first started using email (ahem – 13 years ago, dare I say), and it has become a part of me.  In all other respects, I follow standard grammatical rules, but no capitals means fun for me and is a part of my self-expression.

That’s why I think it’s sad that the person who had originally written the post had not been understood in this context.  It felt to me that their personal expression was being criticised (and criticised quite sharply, I have to say).  However, I also take on board what the commentor was saying about a lack of capitals appearing unprofessional, and that writers need to adjust to their audience (something that is a basic tenet of the writer’s life).

Does anyone else have any thoughts on the use of capitals?