Over the weekend we had a (very) brief discussion of passive voice vs passive language.
Passive voice is an actual grammar thing, whereas passive language has more to do with style. I didn’t find much about it in my googling, so everything here is just my opinion about some of the things I think makes prose passive.
Passive voice can cause passive language, but sometimes it’s useful: “He was shot!” lets you state the fact without blaming the death on anyone in particular. “Someone shot him!” sounds vague, and what if it wasn’t someone, but something?
Passive language has a lot to do with verbs. For a long time my favorite sentence structure was something like “The body was lying on the ground. The officers were examining the scene.” Ok, I didn’t use it in every sentence, but it was too much and got boring.
Another example of passive language would be the simple structure “The body was on the ground.” Nothing wrong with that either, but string too many together: “It was cold. The concrete was bloody, and the blood had congealed. The officers were bored.” I’m bored too.
I might even claim that passive language includes boring descriptions. “She was angry. She felt cold. She saw the body. She tasted the blood. The officers were disgusted.” Disgusted by poor verb choice!
(It’s not just the verbs, but also the plain and repetitive basic sentence structure. But mostly I blame the verbs.)
None of these are passive voice. They’re just…blah. Active prose needs more interesting verbs.
Mirrored from Elizabeth Shack.