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View Full Version : Why do I prefer my passive sentence?


miles
10-06-2007, 04:35 AM
I just started a chapter with this line:

The weak ones are taken behind the Baths of Neptune and decapitated.

It's passive, I know. But I like it because the emphasis is on the weak ones and the decapitation, not who's doing the killing.

But I could go with this:

They decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.


By not identifying who's doing the killing, "weak ones" still gets most the attention (although I prefer "decapitation" to be the last word in the sentence).


And then there's plain old:

Soldiers decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

So, as a reader, which one makes you want to read the on more?

A: The weak ones are taken behind the Baths of Neptune and decapitated.

B: They decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

C: Soldiers decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

D: Some fantastic variation I haven't thought of.


Thanks!

KTC
10-06-2007, 04:36 AM
I'm going to be beaten down for liking the passive one, but I choose A.

aadams73
10-06-2007, 04:39 AM
I don't see anything wrong with A.

KTC
10-06-2007, 04:39 AM
I don't see anything wrong with A.

You're agreeing with me to be difficult.

scarletpeaches
10-06-2007, 04:40 AM
I think it was Stephen King who said it's often best to end the sentence with the kicker, the punch-in-the-guts word, so...sadly, I am with KTC on this one.

Yup, I agree with the spaz.

Esopha
10-06-2007, 04:40 AM
I like A.

Shadow_Ferret
10-06-2007, 04:40 AM
A.

KTC
10-06-2007, 04:41 AM
I think it was Stephen King who said it's often best to end the sentence with the kicker, the punch-in-the-guts word, so...sadly, I am with KTC on this one.

Yup, I agree with the spaz.

quoted to keep the proof of its existence.

sandyn
10-06-2007, 04:48 AM
What is the story about? Are 'they' decapitating the weak ones on a platform, an altar, the ground...? Are the weak ones dragged behind the Baths of Neptune or are they captured behind the baths...?

Of the three above, I vote for A also, with a strong inclination toward D.

aadams73
10-06-2007, 04:48 AM
You're agreeing with me to be difficult.

Damn it! You're on to me!

I shall have to employ Super Sekrit Stealth Skills. *rubs hands in cunning villainous manner*

Shadow_Ferret
10-06-2007, 04:49 AM
What is the story about? Are 'they' decapitating the weak ones on a platform, an altar, the ground...? Are the weak ones dragged behind the Baths of Neptune or are they captured behind the baths...?

You have to read on to find out. That's why its a good hook.

brer
10-06-2007, 04:50 AM
I just started a chapter with this line:
The weak ones are taken behind the Baths of Neptune and decapitated.

It's passive, I know. But I like it because the emphasis is on the weak ones and the decapitation, not who's doing the killing.

But I could go with this:
They decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

By not identifying who's doing the killing, "weak ones" still gets most the attention (although I prefer "decapitation" to be the last word in the sentence).

And then there's plain old:
Soldiers decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

So, as a reader, which one makes you want to read the on more?

A: The weak ones are taken behind the Baths of Neptune and decapitated.

B: They decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

C: Soldiers decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

D: Some fantastic variation I haven't thought of.

Thanks!
I don't see anything wrong with any of those versions. :)

I guess it depends on how you are going to continue with that paragraph, where you want to place the emphasis, what you what to remain a mystery for the moment, . . . imo.

It seems that you have good reasons for using the tone of the first version. . . .

Maybe a "1.a" version? "The weak ones are taken behind the Baths of Nepturne and decapitated by the Kittens of Pacificism" ? :D

sneakers145
10-06-2007, 04:52 AM
It's not a passive sentence that's bad, it's if the overall novel is passive that makes it bland.

I've certainly seen my share of 'It was' sentences in published works. The trick is to use them sparingly (like adverbs!). I use adverbs intentionally. Crits still say I should dump them. But I think they add (in some cases) rather than detract.

So, wishy-washy answer: It depends. ;)

maestrowork
10-06-2007, 05:21 AM
#A is fine -- the focus is on the weak ones being killed... the villains are "nameless/faceless." It gives certain mysteriousness...

Not all passive voices are bad. But if you find yourself writing a lot of passive voices, do examine them closely.

Ziljon
10-06-2007, 05:34 AM
I like A too. Good for you.

Sunkissed27f
10-06-2007, 05:51 AM
I like A as well.


On the negative....weak ones gets me. LOL

Judg
10-06-2007, 06:13 AM
Thank you for conclusively demonstrating that there is a legitimate place for the passive voice.

Sneakers, "it was" sentences are often weak writing, but they are not in the passive voice. Just for the record.

PeeDee
10-06-2007, 06:23 AM
Your first sentence (A) sounds just fine to me. It reads well.

If it read The decapatation was done to the weak ones by the soldiers behind the Baths of Neptune, then I would go "urk." But yours is short and smooth and, although passive, comfortable.

JoniBGoode
10-06-2007, 06:40 AM
Not every passive sentence is a bad sentence. It's just bad to use them constantly, or unintentionally.

I like A because it puts the focus on the weak ones, who are acted on by ominous and unidentified forces. Which is exactly the effect that you want, I think.

KTC
10-06-2007, 07:23 AM
It seems we are all in agreement. I don't know about you guys, but I'm not quite dressed for armageddon. Time to put on a suit.

maestrowork
10-06-2007, 07:42 AM
KTC and PeeDee were taken behind the Starbucks and decapaccinoed.

KTC
10-06-2007, 07:43 AM
That's impossible. Well...not impossible, per se...but, man...it would take a hell of a magic trick to decappuccino me. But you got flare, young man. Nice sentence structure. And I dig those chocolate pants.

kristie911
10-06-2007, 07:48 AM
At the risk of derailing the derailment of this thread, I prefer A also.

KTC
10-06-2007, 07:49 AM
you would

maestrowork
10-06-2007, 07:50 AM
At the risk of derailing the derailment of this thread, I prefer A also.

We didn't ask Door A or Door B. Just Doris.

do i make any sense? gosh i hope not

KTC
10-06-2007, 07:54 AM
who the hell is Doris?

maestrowork
10-06-2007, 07:55 AM
day, que sara sara

KTC
10-06-2007, 07:55 AM
The grass is always greener for A.

maestrowork
10-06-2007, 07:56 AM
A was known to be greener grass.

blacbird
10-06-2007, 08:10 AM
I just started a chapter with this line:

The weak ones are taken behind the Baths of Neptune and decapitated.

It's passive, I know. But I like it because the emphasis is on the weak ones and the decapitation, not who's doing the killing.

You get away with this construction perfectly fine, because your emphasis is on "the weak ones". They are obviously the center of interest in the sentence, and the unknown whoever that does the taking and decapitating are, as far as this sentence goes, inconsequential. Now, if the emphasis of what follows is the decapitators, this might not be appropriate. But as it stands alone, it's fine.

An example: If you are writing a piece about John Lennon, it would be perfectly acceptable to include a sentence saying: "John Lennon was murdered by Mark Chapman." John Lennon is at the focus of the piece. On the other hand, if you were writing about Mark Chapman, you'd want the same piece of information presented differently: "Mark Chapman murdered John Lennon."

The dictum about passive constructions applies primarily to situations in which an active construction would improve the sentence. Most, but not all, passive constructions can be improved by making them active.

caw

OctoberRain
10-06-2007, 08:10 AM
I vote for A. It's got the juice.

goatprincess
10-06-2007, 08:24 AM
Or we might say the juice was had by A.

Yep, this is judicious and effective use of passive voice (your sentence, that is, not my response, which isn't.)

blacbird
10-06-2007, 08:29 AM
A proper, good and useful sentence has been written by you, Miles.

caw

J. R. Tomlin
10-06-2007, 08:43 AM
There are times (not often, but times) when passive is preferable.

It is silly to make some rule that you should never use a passive voice. If you need to emphasize passivity or weakness, that is a good way to do it.

Wraith
10-06-2007, 05:53 PM
I like A as well. And I like it a lot. It has rythm, it has simplicity, it's expressive and it works as a hook. Actually I think passive voice adds to it, because it makes the decapitation thing even more impersonal and scary.

See, often instinct gets it right in spite of the rules.

I like B as well, but for some reason it's not as expressive and strong. Oh, the irony. :D

Nateskate
10-06-2007, 09:35 PM
My series is divided like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion. There's sort of the history of the world, the Universe, the creatures and races. Then there's the story of a lone boy facing an overwhelming world and a thankless task.

In the first series, I wanted to give a Biblical caddence like is found in the Silmarillion, to make it sound as if it came from ancient writings. And so there are times when I'll use more of a poetic voice, which can be a powerful tool. "In the beggining, God..." "And after this he departed..." It has a poetic flow which is prevalent in ancient literature.

But it did create balance problems with the flow at times, and so I went back and re-wrote much of it in an active voice. Passive voice is not poison. It's like salt. Don't spray too liberally, but it has a place.

I just started a chapter with this line:

The weak ones are taken behind the Baths of Neptune and decapitated.

It's passive, I know. But I like it because the emphasis is on the weak ones and the decapitation, not who's doing the killing.

But I could go with this:

They decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.


By not identifying who's doing the killing, "weak ones" still gets most the attention (although I prefer "decapitation" to be the last word in the sentence).


And then there's plain old:

Soldiers decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

So, as a reader, which one makes you want to read the on more?

A: The weak ones are taken behind the Baths of Neptune and decapitated.

B: They decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

C: Soldiers decapitate the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune.

D: Some fantastic variation I haven't thought of.


Thanks!

preyer
10-06-2007, 11:28 PM
...and i would have put it down after the 'A' sentence only because i despise present tense that much, and that's how it reads to me.

miles
10-13-2007, 08:14 PM
Thanks everyone. By the way, in case anyone wants to read the opening attached to my passive sentence, I just posted it here:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=80491

The password is "vista".

Danger Jane
10-14-2007, 03:48 AM
If the entity doing the action (the subject in an active sentence) is unspecified, passive is fiiiiine. And I prefer A.

ccarver30
10-15-2007, 04:24 PM
I like A. ::shrugs::

Joycecwilliams
10-15-2007, 05:14 PM
The weak ones are taken behind the Baths of Neptune and decapitated.

What about...

They take the weak ones behind the Baths of Neptune and decapitate them. :hi:

justJM
10-15-2007, 05:16 PM
Me too with your original sentence. Much punchier.

KTC
10-15-2007, 05:16 PM
...and i would have put it down after the 'A' sentence only because i despise present tense that much, and that's how it reads to me.

Nice to know...but not overly helpful.

aes25
10-16-2007, 12:40 AM
All versions are terrible. Here is the correctly worded sentence:

Against the ones who are weak, decapitation by soldiers is the act that is committed behind the Baths, the namesake of which is Neptune.