Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More on the Passive Voice: Making Your Article Active

I still struggle with eliminating passive sentences from my writing. I have had to revamp my writing style to eliminate them by looking for the various versions of “to be” and rewriting sentences when I see one.

Another way of judging sentences exists: check your subjects and verbs, ignoring the rest of the words. I ran across some tips on recognizing the passive voice that address this approach. In particular, I found the suggestion at the end to use only sentences without commas (meaning without dependent clauses like the one at the beginning of this sentence) until you are confident in your ability to write active sentences.

I have a difficult time imagining this in practice. I tend to create lengthy, inter-dependent sentences with clauses hanging off of them like Christmas tree ornaments. I adore modifiers. Gerunds creep into my sentences, giving them the illusion of activity and fooling me into thinking I have finished editing. I throw prepositional phrases around like tinsel. I spent 20 minutes writing and editing this paragraph to comply with that suggestion and it still has complexity!

I hereby suggest, to myself as well as to my readers, that you don’t worry about active versus passive sentences when you are composing. I lose my train of thought when I stop halfway through every sentence to reconsider my verb. That leads to frustration, to fragmentation, and ultimately to poor writing. In fact, I suggest that you free write your first draft. Let your thoughts out before you try to marshal them into some sort of exciting exhortation. Your passion will show and you may find that you do a better job of writing actively than you think.

Now, to edit yesterday’s sorry excuse for a post. If only I could remember what I intended to say.