Active versus passive (verbs)!

In life there are those who “do” and those “who get done to”. Some of us work hard toward success, whether it is an educational goal, a career dream or simply a pursuit of happiness. Happiness comes in many different shapes and sizes and colors. For some, happiness is impossible without a constant turning of the wheels complete with a daily “to do” list in hand and feeling of being productive. On the other hand, there are others who rise late, move slowly and can not bear the thought of having an agenda to follow. The “active productive addicts” act. A thought comes to mind and they’re out the door before you can say “wait”. The “passive late risers” pass. A thought comes to mind and they say “maybe later” and procrastinate until someone comes along and pushes or pulls them through their tasks. Active versus passive.
Like people, verbs can be active or passive. With the active verb, the subject does something. However, with the passive verb, something is being done TO the subject. The subject lets it happen. No fight, no struggle, it just rolls over and allows it. Like some people, right?
Although there ARE some instances when passive verbs can be more appealing, they’re few and should be avoided whenever possible.
In Stephen King’s “ON WRITING” memoir on craft (Do NOT scoff at the idea of Stephen King if you do not like horror or thriller genre- the man is a GENIUS and MASTER of the craft of writing and knows his stuff!) he writes: “I won’t say there’s no place for the passive tense. Suppose, for instance, a fellow dies in the kitchen but ends up somewhere else. THE BODY WAS CARRIED FROM THE KITCHEN AND PLACED ON THE PARLOR SOFA is a fair way to put this, although ‘was carried’ and ‘ was placed’ still irk the shit out of me. I accept them but I don’t embrace them.” Sometimes it just works because it fits the way the writer wants his reader to see the scene.
BUT King warns us to be selective in our use of passive verbs. He reminds us ( I say “reminds” because we all knew this at one time…) that active verbs give life to the sentence. They make the sentence shine, dance, sing or whatever we- as writers and creators- want the sentence to “DO”. Active verbs are like active people (in my opinion); they are interesting and we want to hang around with them. They grab our attention and they hold it. They entertain, teach and enlighten. They do not get entertained to, taught to or enlightened upon. They are the leaders and we follow.
In King’s “On Writing” he tells us how E.B.White writes in his introduction to THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE,”A MAN FLOUNDERING IN A SWAMP, AND THAT IT WAS THE DUTY OF ANYONE TRYING TO WRITE ENGLISH TO DRAIN THIS SWAMP QUICKLY AND GET THIS MAN UP ON DRY GROUND, OR AT LEAST THROW HIM A ROPE.” And remember, King says” “The writer threw the rope, not The rope was thrown by the writer.”
Whether you are merely a regular person living your life, waking early to catch the worm or staying in bed until your husband or wife tells you its time to start your day, whether you are the active or passive verb of your life, you are the creator of your own destiny and will reap what you sow.
But if you are the writer and you want your story to glow, to sparkle and mostly to make the best sellers list, there is no getting woken up by someone else, because if you use mostly passive verbs, the worm will not be caught. It is the active verb who CATCHES the worm while its passive cousin still sleeps soundly waiting to be woken up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s