Friday, November 9, 2012

Allen Instructs About State of Being Verbs

Over at her blog, Anne R. Allen (Food of Love) talks about passive constructions and the dreaded verb "was." Excerpt:
As soon as you joined your first critique group, found a beta reader, or joined a creative writing workshop, somebody no doubt lectured you about avoiding the word "was." In fact, you were probably admonished to eliminate all forms of the verb "to be" from your fledgling prose.

Your well-meaning mentors told you "was" is "passive," so you must avoid it at all costs, along with adverbs, run-on sentences, and naming all of your characters "Bob".

The people who told you this were repeating "The Rules" they heard from their own critique groups, beta readers, and workshop leaders when they started writing.

The problem is: they were wrong.

This particular rule has good intentions. But it's based on a lack of understanding of the rules of grammar. The verb "to be" has many functions in modern English and some have nothing to do with the passive voice.
Read the whole thing. I wouldn't exactly call grammatical study a hobby of mine. Sure, I have a decent grasp of the discipline, one obtained mostly through elementary-school osmosis and the occasionally ungentle remonstrations of editors when I worked at The Magazine. Yet every once in a while I'll page through one of the three-or-so grammar books I have lying around my office. You know what? I never fail to learn something in those fleeting moments -- and the same holds true with this piece from Allen.

(Picture: CC 2011 by cybrarian77)


Chestertonian Rambler said...

Good blog post. Though personally, the passive voice is something I occasionally choose intentionally. Sometimes the action is of a nature best shown as being agentless.

"He looked down, trying to figure out the source of the strange numbness. His arm was gone."

That's actually (I think) a lot more vivid than, say, "The monster ate his arm, but it took him a moment to realize it."

Loren Eaton said...

Great example, CR. Combining simplicity of description with an intense event really pops. I like it.