Passive Voice

I could use some advice on when and when not to use passive voice. I realize that my sample has other flaws, but I would mainly like some advice on the use of passive voice in it, and how to fix it.

The room was a display of Man. The multifarious forces and objects were held together by an anthropocentric will to exert control over all perceived disparity: the same will that is omnipresent in all echelons of human society; which drove Caesar with the same force that drove Alexander.

There was the grandfather clock, mimicking the incorrigible and and darkly rhythmic march of Time: the march which mowed over Rome and razed Paris just to move towards that Zenonian endpoint—infinitely unattainable yet ostensibly quantified—with unflagging and unfeeling insistence; there was the television—the ultimate symbol of of twenty first century, ennui-fueled vanity and tempered frustration which, besides acting as a symbolic expression of the unconscious, served as material relief from a material world; and then there was the dog, which, as a result of its diminished canine proclivity for domination and savagery—which had been attenuated through years of human interference—thrashed an old sock around behind the TV.

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"Write in the active voice" is a meme. For the most part, the way people usually write in the passive voice is fine. There are certainly instances where it detracts, but for the most part it's fine.

As far as the passive voice is concerned, your use of it here seems to be okay.

Alright. I appreciate it. The passive voice thing has always been in my ears, so I was worried.

The general rule is, that the passive voice tends to make writing sound sneaking, like taking blame off someone or something. Like you're writing in a sort of political blame-shifting type of voice. The passive voice will give more focus to the object than to the subject of the sentence. Use active when you specifically want to make the subject the focus of the reader's attention, which usually makes sense. It is the subject which acts upon the object in a sentence, so it often makes more sense for the subject to come first.

Passive voice is almost always just fine. The one exception is screenwriting.

I kinda suspect that the passive voice complaint from writing coaches is the result of a confusion between shitty, meandering, indirect sentences, and some kind of reflexive "passivity is bad :(" hunch as to why those shitty sentences are shitty.

Writing in the passive voice is sometimes a needless circumlocution for what could be a simpler sentence if it were just SVO. Or it gives too much information as to the cause of the action, when just saying what happened would be more to the point: SVO instead of "it happened that S was forced to V the O."

Some older English prose seems to avoid using the passive. I remember trying to find them in Gibbon's Decline and Fall and not having much luck. So maybe there's some truth to it.

>that gutwrenchingly pretentious text
The passive voice is the least of your issues

It is. But there is literally nothing wrong with being pretentious if the writing is actually good.

If you're going for Absalom, Absalom!, you're going to need the passive voice exactly as you have it. Just do be careful along that route.

"Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down."

Any way to remedy this? I know the obvious answer is "write less pretentiously" but I'm looking for specifics of any kind that could help me improve.

I admit, this passage is imitative.

Well, you should focus more on being clever about actually clever things. Things that demonstrate your knowledge or intelligence.

Being clever about dogs trashing socks around or the banality of television, is ironically pretty banal.

Just my 2 cents.

Put the fucking thesaurus away, Jesus Christ. Bogging every sentence down with syllables only harms your writing.

Passive voice is moreso a problem in political writing, because blame is not being assigned to the correct parties, usually


That was awful to read OP.

This terms like 'perceived disparity', 'Zenonian endpoint', and 'symbolic expression of the unconscious' are needlessly cerebral. Just when the reader settles into a flow, something like that crops up like a giant sign saying, 'Look how clever I am.'

I'd have to know the context this excerpt fits into - whether you're trying to be serious or ironic. Though I like the idea of containing these monolithic allusions to history in a commonplace setting.

Alright. I'll try less unnecessary description.

No context, actually. I wrote it just to write it; it doesn't fit into a larger body of text or story.

That said, you're not a bad writer even if you are needlessly hyperbolic.

Keep at it.

Ah, alright then. Like I said, not a bad idea at all, but less is more. Even if your idea is in fact clever, the reader retroactively devalues it when the writer pushes his intellect onto them, and it's difficult to overcome that reaction unless you're actually a genius with encyclopedic knowledge. A few academic phrases sprinkled over the passage are not enough to elicit a favorable response in that regard, so you might as well cut them.

>presbyterian effluvium of lugubrious and vindictive anticipation
>real problem is "perceived disparity" and that dogs are naturally too mundane for this kind of treatment

When someone writes something like OP has, to say that the problem is pretense or purple prose is kind of like if someone asks you how to solve a math problem and you tell them just to not do that problem. It might be true, practically speaking - the easiest route to good prose does not involve OP's post at all.

But it is not a very interesting discussion to say that everyone should always employ best practices in creating their voice. There is an opportunity here to do careful reading and to have an interesting discussion about why some prose exactly in the style that OP has posted works, and where his does and does not utilize the same or equally successful principles.

Looking forward to having more to say about this later.