polymath wrote:A passage from Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, © 1973, Dell Publishing Delta Book 1999 trade paperback edition, pages 13 through 15.
"Dwayne's incipient insanity was mainly a matter of chemicals, of course. Dwayne Hoover's body was manufacturing certain chemicals which unbalanced his mind. But Dwayne, like all novice lunatics, needed some bad ideas, too, so that his craziness could have shape and direction.
"Bad chemicals and bad ideas were the Yin and Yang of madness. Yin and Yang were Chinese symbols of harmony. They looked like this:"
[Yin Yang symbol graphic.]
"The bad ideas were delivered to Dwayne by Kilgore Trout. Trout considered himself not only harmless but invisible. The world had paid so little attention to him that he supposed he was dead.
"He hoped he was dead.
"But he learned from his encounter with Dwayne that he was alive enough to give a fellow human being ideas which would turn him into a monster.
"Here was the core of the idea which Trout gave to Dwayne: Everybody on Earth was a robot, with one exception—Dwayne Hoover.
"Of all the creatures in the Universe, only Dwayne was thinking and feeling and worrying and planning and so on. Nobody else knew what pain was. Nobody else had any choices to make. Everybody else was a fully automatic machine, whose purpose was to stimulate Dwayne. Dwayne was a new type of creature being tested by the Creator of the Universe.
"Only Dwayne had free will."
Lots of were and was verbs and auxilliaries, one passive voice sentence. "The bad ideas were delivered to Dwayne by Kilgore Trout." "The bad ideas" theme or topic of the sentence, "were" to be auxilliary verb, "delivered" main verb, "by" preposition, followed by the agent of the action (delivered) "Kilgore Trout." Recast in active voice; //Kilgore Trout delivered the bad ideas to Dwayne.//
Use of passive voice in that instance is preferrable for two reasons:
1) Despite the fact that he's the one acting on them, the significance of Trout himself is secondary to what's actually being established - the bad ideas. Using passive voice keeps emphasis on the core element of the 'bad ideas' by placing them at the front of the statement.
2) Use of passive voice there provides a smoother transition between the topics being detailed than active voice would. To demonstrate, assign a letter A
to the topic of 'bad ideas
' and a letter B
to the topic of Kilgore Trout
. Disregarding the brief (and poor) yin yang analogy, we see:
'Bad chemicals and bad ideas
were the yin and yang of madness...' - A
'The bad ideas
were delivered to Dwayne by Kilgore Trout
.' - A then B
considered himself not only harmless but invisible.' - B
Summarily, passive voice lists the subjects - A then A then B then B
Recasting the middle sentence to active voice, it becomes - A then B then A then B
If there's a meaning to life, and for a writing life, it's navigating the conundrums posed by predetermination and free will. Some destinies are predetermined, some open to free will. Which applies when and why and where is one of anyone's decisions to make for themselves. The only certain predetermination is death, maybe taxes. From birth, death is predetermined. Be angry, deny, bargain, be depressed, find acceptance. Find a way ahead. Life goes on, regardless.
This summary is reassuring. I'd been concerned that 'sometimes bad shit happens for no reason'
was too vague a theme for the bedrock of a story (even though I've hopefully stacked several layers of increasingly specific themes on top of it)