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Active voice vs Passive voice?

The flower attacked John.

It has always been said that sentences should be written in the active voice as this creates a stronger feel. True, but the passive voice has its benefits. In the sentence above the focus is on the flower as this is the subject to the verb and the feeling of passivity falls to John. The flower itself is probably unimportant.

John was attacked by the flower.

By using the passive voice in this instance we keep the focus on the main character because the object (John ) has taken on the role of the subject to the verb even though it is still technically the object. This in turn renders John stronger and removes that sense of inertness from him. Passive voice shifts the focus of the subject and its strength. This may be intended. If you continually wrote in the active voice when dealing with the key character being acted upon then we will end up with a weak character. I know that sounds odd when the "active" voice by definition generates strength and focus. This way, we can have something done to him but because we keep the focus on the character we keep him strong. Also, we see the scene from the character’s perspective.

Also, look at the sentence. The word “John” begins the sentence in the passive voice and ends it in the active voice. Generally (high impact action and oddities aside) we focus more strongly on the beginning of the sentence than the end. Why is this?

Consider the last few words at the end of this active sentence.

…flower attacked John.

John is preceded by several words that run into the last – John. The high impact word here is probably attacked. But we focus more on the "attacking" than the one being attacked because of the way in which we naturally order our images in relation to what we are reading.

The passive voice begins the sentence

John was attacked …

Again, the "doing" word is attacked but because the word John comes before this we see john before we see the attacking. This means that John is strong in our minds as soon as we start the sentence and before we know he is going to be attacked. The general rule in writing is to economise. Why use ten words to say something when five will do. Here, the passive sentence has two more words than the active sentence. But, I believe that the positives in this case far outweigh this single negative point.

The passive voice is not always a bad ting. You may have a character who is weak, who has weak principals and who is easily susceptible to the influence others. You can augment the character’s inherent "weaknesses" by assigning a passive narrative to this character.

There are very good reasons for using the passive voice.

When deciding weather you should use the active of passive voice consider the following: is the key character going to be weakened in some way. Is the focus going to be off the key character? If yes and this is "not" what you want then consider the passive. It's a kind of contradiction that the passive voice can be made to have an active tone if used in certain ways.

Feel free to leave comments.

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