Bonjour mes petites!
I am your practical pedagogue in the arcane art of literary logistics, Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV, Ivy to my friends and much acclaimed author of the science fantasy masterpiece ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’. Those necessary formalities having been removed, it behoves me to explain how the topic of today’s teaching entered the arena of my awareness.
Last week, you may recall, you learned from my loquacious lecture of literary lore which explored the concept of Voice – the unique belling of tone, taste and texture which each and every author brings to their work. But when I told Mumsie of my pedagogical piece de resistance, she stopped buttering her toast and reached over to wack me on the back of the hand with the flat side of her cutlery.
“You are a muppet, Moons,” she told me in her usual loving snarl. “Voice is not some literary fa-di-da subtle imponderable thing, it’s grammar!” And nothing would satisfy her except my writing to explain to you, my dear Reader Who Writes, that there is another use of ‘voice’ in the literary kingdom – the grammatical usage.
How to Start Writing a Book – Lesson 27: The Write Voice – II
There are, as I am confident you will already know, two grammatical voices. The active and the passive. This is, of course, as applied to verbs. Verbs? Did I hear somebody say the word verbs with a questioning note in their voice. Depart immediately for the naughty step and sit there considering your ignorance while I enlighten your classmates. And desist the whining. Verbs are, as if explanation were needed, doing words. In the sentence Adam chased Eric around the classroom. The verb is chased. Hands up all of those who knew that already. If you didn’t put your hand up one is ashamed of you.
But to our muttons. To quote some dry old grammarian or another: the passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is acted upon by the verb, rather than the subject of the sentence verbing.
John smacked Alec’s bottom. Active voice.
Alec’s bottom was smacked. Passive voice. And an intriguing question. Who did the smacking?
This is the wonder of the passive voice, it opens up multifarious imponderables for the reader’s eager speculation to latch onto and expand within the nemeton of his or her own imagination. Take this example and see how the mystery is enhanced and the sense of inevitable doom is heightened:
The final blow was dealt when the mighty Robot Lord was empowered. Falling to the ground, the Queen’s head was cleaved cleanly from her shapely shoulders. Her face was smashed beneath the boot of the victor. Fate was satiated and destiny was fulfilled.
From the point of view of the humble scrivener, the wiseacres out there will tear their sparse and greying locks and cry despairingly – use not the passive voice lest the house of cards you have constructed upon the shifting sands of your enfeebled imagination collapse in a whining heap of pips and smirking pictures. Well I am here to reassure you my little students. They speak of that which they wot not. A beautifully turned sentence is a beautifully turned sentence irrespective of whether the quick red fox jumps, or the lazy dog is jumped over.
Ignore the small minded and febrile who would collar your creativity in the bonds of grammatical usage or common phraseology.
Or look at it this way if you have eyes to see.
John Smith wrote a book. Meh. Blah. Boring.
This example of the authorly genus was made with skill and love by the fair hand of Johannes Smythe.
I rest my case.
Until next my fuzzy little bunnies.
May your voices be passive and your heroes erect.