Active voice discussion


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Thread: Active voice discussion

  1. #1

    Active voice discussion

    Here we can exchange tips on the active voice, which is not discussed that often but I feel as if it could help writers.

    For me I felt lost on what active voice was, and currently read a couple of pages by harry norden's book image grammar.

    It shows me with examples how I was not writing with active voice.


    Shifting the weight of the line to his left shoulder and kneeling carefully, he washed his hand in the ocean and held it there, submerged, for more than a minute, watching the blood trail away and the steady movement of the water against his hand as the boat moved.

    (this has a lot of commas but is from hemingway's old man and the sea.)

    I have pages of information explaining it. So I feel I can share this if people think it will contribute.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  2. #2
    Most interesting. Please post the explanation.

  3. #3
    Here is one explanation there are five lessons to active voice (what are techniques to keep images moving). This is an exceprt from Harry Norden's Image grammar page 5-6. (each technique is referred to as a brush stroke)

    One of the clearest ways to define brush strokes for students is showing models in having them imitate. Here are a few examples to help clarify how professionals and students each participles and participial phrases. Ernest Hemingway uses possible phrases to create tension in action in this excerpt from Old Man and the Sea:


    In this passage Hemingway uses the ed submerged for similar effect. When first working with brush strokes students often confused ed form what is the predicate of the sentence. So it's best to begin with an ing definition and introduce ed once students have control of the ing brushstroke.

    Hissing its forked red tongue and coiling its cold body, the diamond back snake attacked its prey. Both methods adding several participles or adding one or two participial phrases paint more detailed images. Using single participle creates rapid movement while expanding phrases at details at a slower but equally intense pace.

    Passive is arguably a static image. Use the search function in your word processor as a tip to search for all being verbs (is, are, am, being) and others.

    Next sentences using a different technique:

    Mind racing, anxiety overtaking, the driver peered once more at the specimen.

    I glanced at my clock, digits glowing florescent blue in the inky darkness of my room.

    Jaws cracking, tongue curling, the kitten yawned tiredly, awaking from her nap. Page 8.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; August 19th, 2019 at 11:23 PM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  4. #4
    The active voice describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. It follows a clear subject + verb + object construct that's easy to read.

    "Jim (subject) bit into (verb) the hamburger (object)"

    With passive voice, the subject is acted upon by the verb. Basically it's when you have something done to a character versus them doing it:

    "The hamburger (object) was bitten by (verb) Jim (subject)"

    Conventional wisdom says that active voice is better because it presents a clearer, more natural image. It sounds weird to talk from the point of view of a hamburger, as in the second phrasing, right? Sure it does.

    The thing is that sometimes passivity has an effect all of its own. Consider whether it is better to write "Sally hung her Grandmother's locket around her neck" or "Her Grandmother's locket hung around Sally's neck".

    The second example reads as passive because it places the object (her grandmother's locket) before the verb and the subject ('Sally'), but in that case I would argue the passive voice works because it elevates the object to a higher degree of importance. Essentially by using the passive voice we are giving the object a sense of agency, of power.

    "The road through the mountains took his car westward."
    "The painting sat across the room from where they kissed"
    "The body lay in its casket between the three of them"

    And that sort of thing. Often by writing in a passive voice we are inverting the natural order of the human power dynamic. We are weakening the agency of the human being, the point of view character, by having them be manipulated by something inanimate or abstract. This is usually done pretty badly. Often it leads to an effect of humdrum, or of a kind of bureaucratic anthropomorphism like you might find in a newspaper dispatch "The law found him guilty of racketeering", "The new FDA legislation was strongly opposed by the farmers", "The White House reacted dismissively to the testimony given by James Comey", etc. But it doesn't always ​have to be that way.
    Last edited by luckyscars; August 20th, 2019 at 06:36 AM.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  5. #5
    I'm not sure where the "-ing" and "-ed" verb discussion fits in with the basic active and passive voice one here, but below is what may be an example from my own novel where I have used a mixture of such clauses to form relationships between primary and secondary actions.

    The sorcerer of time turned to follow his elven assistant up the stairs, his recent success with temporal magic forgotten. Wearily he went after her through colourful fishes swimming in the air, the hem of his long robe brushing over the steps as his slippered feet climbed. He felt old and tired, very tired.
    The imagery is actually substantially a fantasy as it is simply a man in dressing gown and slippers walking up a staircase behind his young secretary and the fishes are just a mural painted on the walls around them. However, the image fits the context and mood of the story at that point. Before you read this paragraph you no doubt had exactly the image that I presented to you above in mind but the reader already knew the truth.

    Although the man appears to be the active subject note that he simply "went" up the stairs, a very weak active verb, while it was his slippered feet that actually did the climbing. This suggests that his tiredness was mental rather than physical and it is his body rather than his mind that is the real active subject. He has only just fallen out of bed and is virtually sleepwalking through the scene. Hence there are degrees of activity in practice.

    I agree that such constructs can add greater dimension to one's writing provided that they are not used to excess.
    Last edited by JustRob; August 20th, 2019 at 10:54 AM.
    'Sharing an experience creates a reality.' Create a new reality today.
    'There has to be some give and take.' If I can take my time I'm willing to give it.
    'The most difficult criticism that a writer has to comprehend is silence.' So speak up.

  6. #6
    Wɾʇ∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    I wonder if this is one of those discussions where the terms tend to get crossed. My understanding (may be wrong, but this is how I view it) of active and passive mood (as opposed to passive voice) is that active mood shows things doing, where passive mood describes them existing (which do somewhat marry up with your ~ed and ~ing suffixes respectively). Words like was and had and sported and stood and adorned don't show stuff happening and moving about, but stuff being. In moderation I would say that is fine but too much and the writing stops forward motion. Like, I dunno, "Wreaths of lillies garlanded the tree" or "Wreaths of lillies, garlanding the tree that stood in the grounds." This basically says "A tree, garlanded in wreaths of lillies and standing in the grounds, was busy standing in the grounds being a tree garlanded in wreaths of lillies."

    The ideal, to me, would be to invoke that tree, pretty as it is, as a backdrop or passive supporting situation to some main active plot event. "In the grounds, beneath the tree garlanded in wreaths of lillies, Alice smacked Bob upside the head with a shovel." I mean the odd bit of straight description is fine as I say, but too much and the text literally stops being active, stops moving, and becomes passive, simply sitting there, existing.

    Passive and active voices however concern themselves with verb structures; eg: he threw an egg is active but and egg was thrown is passive. But I honestly don't see the passive voice much in writing. Passive mood is much more common in my experience.

    EDIT: And now I'm down a rabbit hole of grammatical moods. The subjunctive! The cohortative! The jussive! :O


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





  7. #7
    All these are techniques supposedly that published writers have used. But I think if it's actually not considered active voice by some it can be called prose techniques. Which concern the description adds movement to images. Which creates a good effect and draws in the reader.

    What he calls absolutes is to combine a noun with an ing (present and/or past particple). It could be an event as noted because it depicts action. The verbs can change it into an event because of the immediacy of the action depicted by the verbs.

    Some strategies for brainstorming verbs is to make a list of concrete nouns (that you can use later on in two seprate columns) and the actions those verbs perform.

    Or find a poem and take the list from there. You fill in the blank for the verb. It's a technique to find verbs.

    A strategy for finding examples could be to look at some published novels that feauture a movie. That way writers can imitiate writers who succeeded by using these techniques (brush stroke).

    Here's more on the list.
    By brush strokes he refers it as a repertoire of techniques someone can use to write. These are some additional ways he argues writers add images to thier sentences and prose. His list of strategies writers use:
    1) aboslutes seen here and explained.
    2)appositives
    3) pariticiples and participle phrases
    4) adjectives out of order. (this one is different but he doesn't say adjectives are neccesarily bad)
    5) action verbs and verb phrases.

    luckyscars: I agree that active voice is defined as what you wrote. I wanted to say these are just strategies or active voice, but I think none of what I wrote is passive in construction. I appreciate the fact you added to the discussion.

    Just rob: I liked the example and sentence of the time wizard. It seems that it would serve good as an example for describing. I liked the excerpt even. Look for readers. That sentence hooked me into the story.
    Bdcharles: I think you are right in saying I might have crossed the terms. Either way I am trying to correct it in my post by saying its a way of describing as you yourself mentioned (specific images that depict an event). It also helps to zoom in on the action taking place. Which is what you said in different words. By zooming we can then picture what is happening better.

    One of the reasons I called this active voice was because by using the passive voice you are telling. Showing is done by using different techniques that would make the prose more "active."
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  8. #8
    So here's a kinda related question.

    I want to write from the perspective of a depressed person. I was thinking of using a passive voice early on, slowly shifting to a more active voice as they exert more agency. But i'm worried too much passivity early on would be a turn off for readers.

    Any advice on how to tread this tightrope? Any examples from literature of this being done?

  9. #9
    Wɾʇ∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by epimetheus View Post
    So here's a kinda related question.

    I want to write from the perspective of a depressed person. I was thinking of using a passive voice early on, slowly shifting to a more active voice as they exert more agency. But i'm worried too much passivity early on would be a turn off for readers.

    Any advice on how to tread this tightrope? Any examples from literature of this being done?
    Have a compelling character I would say if you can make this darkly funny, for example, I would definitely be interested.


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





  10. #10
    Look for a movie and novel adapation feauturing a depressed person. That's what the author advises. See how they handled it.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_illness_in_fiction

    Supposedly this link shows novels in the public domain that can probably depict a depressed person or people living with mental illnesses.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

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