Passive Voice Debate

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J. T. SHEA
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by J. T. SHEA » October 1st, 2010, 4:31 pm

A thousand thanks, Unprintableme! Fugalbert is a very naughty boy. Only naughty boys call the A10 Thunderbolt Ground Attack Aircraft a 'Warthog'. Mind you, that includes the pilots...

But he's wasting his time with flamethrowers and jets if Shrimp Scampi leftovers won't do the job. I hear the UN is about to declare Shrimp Scampi to be a weapon of mass destruction.

BTW, what was this thread supposed to be about, again?

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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by k10wnsta » October 1st, 2010, 6:08 pm

Oh passive voice, what a trifling vagary at times...

I'd be keen to see analysis of a sentence like:

We wandered the neighborhood looking for a streetlight that wasn't surrounded by houses.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by Margo » October 1st, 2010, 6:55 pm

k10wnsta wrote:We wandered the neighborhood looking for a streetlight that wasn't surrounded by houses.
Analysis? The sentence flows nicely for me until the passive voice shift, which is like dropping a box down a flight of steps (as I experience it).

I'd have written it: We wandered the neighborhood looking for a streetlight distant from the houses.

But that's just me.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by polymath » October 1st, 2010, 7:07 pm

k10wnsta wrote:I'd be keen to see analysis of a sentence like:

We wandered the neighborhood looking for a streetlight that wasn't surrounded by houses.
The sentence is partly passive voice. "Wasn't surrounded by houses" has all the hallmarks of passive voice. Though negated, a to be auxilliary verb, "wasn't," main clause verb "surrounded," preposition "by," followed by the agent of the clause's predicate action (wasn't surrounded) "houses." Recast active voice: //that houses didn't surround.// The object compliment "that wasn't surrounded by houses" is a participle clause modifying object "streetlight." It passes general muster even if in passive voice because it's not as grammatically formal as recasting in active voice makes it.

Several other issues I see. It's summarizing an action, a Tell, and the sentence's topic is occluded by syntatical complexity, and from both, perhaps, more remote in narrative distance than intended or wanted.

An isolated streetlight is the central topic of the sentence. The agents of the action finding an isolated streetlight are not as important as the topic. Showing why an isolated streetlight is sought should close narrative distance by bringing the agents forward in importance.

On the other hand, "wasn't surrounded by houses" could be construed as a litotes, usually a negated ironic understatement. A litotes tends to close narrative distance when it's in a standalone sentence or a main sentence clause.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by Margo » October 1st, 2010, 8:16 pm

You know, I kinda think we need an "Ask Polymath" thread or sub-section. I'm not kidding. When I ask a question, I'm usually thinking, Gosh, I hope so-and-so sees this and whatshername responds, and I bet whatshisname would know just how to answer this. You're always on the list of people I'm hoping will respond, polymath.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by theepicwinner » October 1st, 2010, 8:41 pm

What about when magic comes into play?

"Roberto splayed his hands and Victor was sent hurtling backwards into the wall".

Is that better or worse than:

"Roberto splayed his hands, sending Victor hurtling backwards into the wall".

I've seen both methods used in books and it always irks me when the passive voice is used. It just feels wrong to me, hence why I try to avoid it at all costs.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by J. T. SHEA » October 1st, 2010, 9:11 pm

'We wandered the neighborhood looking for a streetlamp that wasn't surrounded by houses.'
I have no problem with that sentence, K10wnsta, though I might shorten it and add a comma.
'We wandered the neighborhood, looking for a streetlamp not surrounded by houses.'

'Roberto splayed his hands and Victor was sent hurtling backwards into the wall.' The 'Victor was sent' part is passive, but I see nothing wrong with that.

'Robert splayed his hands, sending Victor hurtling backwards into the wall.' The 'sending Victor' part is past continuous, not passive. Again, I have no problem with the sentence, but 'Robert splayed his hands and sent Victor hurtling backwards into the wall.' might be better.

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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by k10wnsta » October 1st, 2010, 9:12 pm

Margo wrote:You know, I kinda think we need an "Ask Polymath" thread or sub-section. I'm not kidding. When I ask a question, I'm usually thinking, Gosh, I hope so-and-so sees this and whatshername responds, and I bet whatshisname would know just how to answer this. You're always on the list of people I'm hoping will respond, polymath.
Funny, I thought the same thing - in fact, I initially wrote 'I'd be keen to hear polymath's analysis...' in my earlier post. Then I thought 'what a passive-aggressive way to seek a specific reply'. Then when he actually replied, I thought, 'Hmmm, Polymath sure has a way of using words I know in ways that make me wonder if I really know them.'
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by k10wnsta » October 1st, 2010, 9:15 pm

J. T. SHEA wrote:'We wandered the neighborhood looking for a streetlamp that wasn't surrounded by houses.'
I have no problem with that sentence, K10wnsta, though I might shorten it and add a comma...
Hows about if it was 5 times longer with about a jillion commas?
I'll polish it and post it in its entirety for everyone to puzzle over in a moment.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by polymath » October 1st, 2010, 9:36 pm

theepicwinner wrote:What about when magic comes into play?

"Roberto splayed his hands and Victor was sent hurtling backwards into the wall".

Is that better or worse than:

"Roberto splayed his hands, sending Victor hurtling backwards into the wall".

I've seen both methods used in books and it always irks me when the passive voice is used. It just feels wrong to me, hence why I try to avoid it at all costs.
Uh, my. The first example is an and conjunction joined run on sentence tacking on a passive voice independent clause. In it's favor, Roberto's action causes Victor to hurtle into the wall. Roberto is an indirect agent of Victor hurtling though, which is clearer in the second sentence, and not in passive voice. I'd suggest considering an intermediary sentence or clause to clarify the magic's agency, as, after all, magic is the agent of Victor hurtling. Roberto merely summons the magic.

//Roberto splayed his hands. Summoning a repeller spirit, he sent Victor hurtling backwards into the wall.//

Regardless, all three are in overt narrator reporting, narrator's summaries of visually sensed and perceived actions, Tells. Roberto's splayed hands action is an external visual sensation of his nonconscious action. I don't logically see him thinking about splaying his hands. Summoning magic I do see him conscious of to some extent, depending on how adept he is with magic. Anyway, again, remote narrative distance.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by polymath » October 1st, 2010, 9:44 pm

Margo wrote:You know, I kinda think we need an "Ask Polymath" thread or sub-section. I'm not kidding. When I ask a question, I'm usually thinking, Gosh, I hope so-and-so sees this and whatshername responds, and I bet whatshisname would know just how to answer this. You're always on the list of people I'm hoping will respond, polymath.
While I'm grateful and flattered, Margo, put on the spot, I think my day job and my writing ambitions would suffer.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by k10wnsta » October 1st, 2010, 9:56 pm

As promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective), the actual sentence:

Chase grabbed his slingshot and we wandered the neighborhood looking for a light that wasn’t surrounded by houses, because until you actually shot them out, the streetlights had an irritating habit of lighting everything around them for all the world to see, and you’d have to be a pretty cherry vandal not to see the scrape in that.

Now, I axe of you, what percentage of that clusterfuck is passive? Yes, I know it could be broken up into several, seperate sentences, but I've yet to find a way of doing so that retains an appropriate cadence and flow with everything else around it. Or wait, maybe it would work as:

Chase grabbed his slingshot and we wandered the neighborhood looking for a light that wasn’t surrounded by houses. Until you actually shot them out, the streetlights had an irritating habit of lighting everything around them for all the world to see, and you’d have to be a pretty cherry vandal not to see the scrape in that.

But then we have the matter of the partial passive voice in the initial sentence. Well, I'll spend the next couple days trying to get it right and then, when it's all said and done, I still won't be happy with it and I'll move on to worry myself to death over minutiae at another random point in the story. Words...*sigh*...
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by Margo » October 1st, 2010, 10:15 pm

polymath wrote:I think my day job and my writing ambitions would suffer.
Not surprising, and quite valid.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by Margo » October 1st, 2010, 10:18 pm

theepicwinner wrote:"Roberto splayed his hands and Victor was sent hurtling backwards into the wall".

Is that better or worse than:

"Roberto splayed his hands, sending Victor hurtling backwards into the wall".
The passive here hits my ear like an icepick. I'd take the second sentence any day and twice on Sunday.
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Re: Passive Voice Debate

Post by Margo » October 1st, 2010, 10:22 pm

k10wnsta wrote:Then when he actually replied, I thought, 'Hmmm, Polymath sure has a way of using words I know in ways that make me wonder if I really know them.'
I've asked polymath to dumb an answer down for me in the past. :) What's really scary is when I find out that I understood the first explanation after all. I think it might be the abstract language, or what I'm perceiving as abstract language.
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