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Thread: Passive voice in dialogue

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW Graz's Avatar
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    Feb 2011

    Passive voice in dialogue

    Is passive voice and sentence fragments more acceptable in dialogue?

  2. #2
    Jun-Ikkyu Nick Blaze's Avatar
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    Sep 2009
    On Urth.
    I say it's fine so long as you do it well and it makes sense, in either situation.
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  3. #3
    Where am I again? Becca_H's Avatar
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    Jul 2010
    United Kingdom
    Dialogue must mimic real speech, and people do talk in passive voice and fragments.

    It's also acceptable in narration, depending on your narrator and POV.

  4. #4
    Worst song played on ugliest guitar Libbie's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
    umber and black Humberland
    Just about anything is more acceptable in dialogue. However, you need to be sure that your dialogue is comfortable for the reader -- be sure it flows and comes off the page easily.

    Quote Originally Posted by Becca_H View Post
    Dialogue must mimic real speech, and people do talk in passive voice and fragments.
    It's true that people do talk in passive voice and in fragments -- I agree with that. But I disagree that dialogue must mimic real speech. Instead, I think it's better for dialogue to give the impression of real speech while still being pleasant to read.

    It's easier to illustrate this than to explain this, so here's a bit of dialogue that mimics real speech:



    "Did you see the email John sent me?"

    "Yeah, I was like..."

    "I know, right?"

    "I mean, that was just...god."


    "I was like, whatever."

    "Yeah, uh..."
    Real dialogue is full of vocal static, and also relies heavily on inflection, facial expression and body language to help round out its full meaning. It's very hard to replicate all that in writing. Whatever is missing from expression and physical gestures usually has to be filled in with speech that is more precise and articulate than most people actually use, and with the internal observations of the POV character. The end result is, hopefully, something that FEELS like a real conversation but that actually conveys more textual information than a real conversation carries.

    Dialogue is pretty hard to do well, really.

    But yes, you can use passive voice in dialogue. You can use passive voice anywhere, if it works. When you're digesting all these "rules" of writing (no passive voice, no adverbs, etc.), remember that they're not really rules. They're guidelines to help newer writers avoid overdoing the things that new writers commonly overdo. But all of the "rules" can and should be broken when it feels right to do so. You just have to understand why you're using passive voice, or adverbs, or whatever other rule you're breaking, instead of just throwing words at the page without a good reason.

  5. #5
    Kendy's Father, Maureen's Husband nathanrudy's Avatar
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    May 2011
    New Jersey
    Passive voice almost universally jars me when I read it, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.

    Nathan Rudy
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  6. #6
    Author of Dark Speculative Fiction gcalcaterra's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    If using a passive voice in dialogue illuminates one of your characters, then I say go for it. It should be unique to that specific character, though, and be used with purpose. (Is the character a nervous person? Lack confidence?). If you used passive voice in the dialogue for all characters, it would get old in a hurry.
    Garrett Calcaterra
    author of dark speculative fiction


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