I listened to the podcasts of Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer while fertilizing my lawn yesterday. I highly recommend them. (They are available for free on iTunes U.) I am absolutely sure my brain got more out of my activity than my pathetic lawn.
The one strategy that keeps rattling around in my head was #4 – Be Passive Aggressive. Clark says to “use passive verbs to showcase the victim of the action.” This advice came at an opportune time. I am knee deep in the revision of my WIP and am reconsidering every place I have used a passive verb. Now, teachers and writing coaches frequently admonish to expunge all passive constructions of any sort. I disagree. I see a place for passive verbs in my work.
First of all, the main character of my current WIP is most definitely the victim of the action in the first third of the book. She does very little while the universe beats up on her. As i continue to edit, I plan to pay close attention to allowing an appropriate amount of passive verbs to remain in that section of the book and eliminate more as the main character starts taking charge of her life. Secondly, women of a certain age use passive verbs in their speech in order to not overtly say aggressive things. For instance, Kitty (the main character in my novel Overlook) would never say, “I punched my lying cheating husband in the nose.” She would say, “My husband’s nose was bloodied.” That way no one is overtly responsible for the action.
Do you cut out all passive verbs in your drafts with a razor? Do you use them judiciously? Do you use them in dialogue?