Lyn Gala

One writer's journal through one version of reality


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Kill that Passive Voice

I should be writing my novel, but I either have the stomach flu or Wendy’s did not keep their meat at temperature… who knows? Anyway, I’m surfing Facebook—the time killer and bane of all writers and I came across one more post admonishing writers to avoid passive voice.

Most of these posts include a nice little description of passive voice. It’s when the thing getting acted on is placed up front and the person doing the action is shoved into the back of the sentence or removed altogether. You can spot them because a passive voice sentence picks up a helping verb.

Active voice:

Lyn threw the ball

Passive voice shoving the subject in back:

The ball was thrown by Lyn

Passive voice with subject missing:

The ball was thrown.

 

And here is where most of these posts stop. The author must find and fix passive voice on their own. That’s a little like pointing to a field and saying… “Hey, there’s a bomb somewhere. Go disarm it.” They don’t even explain WHY it’s considered poor writing in English. So, here is some of what I’ve picked up over the years.

 

Passive voice lets writers hide a guilty party.

The money was stolen. The inspection was botched. The suspect was incorrectly arrested.

Yeah… do you see how the guilty people are suddenly ducking out of the blame? In romance writing that’s a particularly serious error because the reader can’t tell who is doing what.

Susan was betrayed.

Um… by whom? The asshole who cheated on her, the girlfriend who was the second person in the bed, or both? Passive voice hides Susan’s true feelings of betrayal.

 

So, how do you fix passive voice? First, you have to find it. Here’s a short passage.

Da’shay was carefully watched as she moved toward Tom with that sway in her hips that meant she was in a mood to play and Tom was considered her favorite playtoy. Tom never had much luck with women, so he wasn’t sure how he had lucked out with Da’shay. However, the chase was included in their game, so he planned a good long run, and he’d keep running until he was caught fair and square. Then she could tie him down and use him as she liked, and she would.

 

You want to suspect any linking verbs.

1. “Da’shay was carefully watched as she moved”

2. “she was in a mood to play”

3. “Tom was considered her favorite playtoy”

4. “he wasn’t sure how he had lucked out”

5. “the chase was included in their game”

6. “he was caught fair and square”

 

Passive voice is a structure where the person doing the action is either moved to the back or removed. Check each sentence by looking for the action (verb) and deciding if the person doing that action is up front where he or she should be.

 

1. The verb is “watched.” Who is doing that? Either Tom is watching her OR there is someone else watching the couple start their gameplay. This is the worst type of passive voice because it makes the actions unclear. If Tom is going the action, “Tom” should be placed at the front of the sentence so the reader knows who is doing the action.

2. The only verb is “was.” The sentence is about Da’shay, and the “she” is up front. This sentence is fine.

3. The verb is “considered.” Who is considering it? Does Tom consider himself a playtoy or does Da’shay think of him as a playtoy? This is written from Tom’s point of view, so this should reflect Tom’s thoughts, but this sentence is so unclear that it almost reads as if we’ve jumped to Da’shay’s point of view.

4. The verb is “was.” The fact that you don’t have another verb in there means this isn’t passive voice.

5. The verb is “included.” Who is including it? “Chase” is the thing that is included, so it can’t be the subject doing the action, but it’s up front. That’s passive voice.

6. The verb is “caught.” Who is doing the catching and who is getting caught? The person doing the action should be up front and the person getting caught should be in back. Wait. The sentence is backward. Tom is getting caught, but his name is up front.

 

So this short passage has four pieces of passive voice. Fixing them isn’t difficult. In each case, you do the same thing. You have to figure out who is doing the action. Then take that person and put their name (or a pronoun that refers to them) up front.

 

1. “Da’shay was carefully watched as she moved”

Who is doing the watching? I don’t want someone else in this scene so it must be Tom. I need to put him up front. I then drop the helping verb out of the sentence: “Tom carefully watched Da’shay as she moved”

 

3. “Tom was considered her favorite playtoy”

This is Tom’s point of view, but the fact is that thinking about yourself as a playtoy is a little creepy. I want Da’shay to look at Tom like he’s a playtoy, so he’s just thinking about her attitude and reveling in how much she likes to “use” him. So I’m going to put Da’shay up front as the person doing the “considering.” That will push “Tom” into the back half of the sentence. “Da’shay considered Tom her favorite playtoy.

 

5. “the chase was included in their game”

This is confusing. Who included chasing as part of their sexual game. I seriously hope it was both of them agreeing on it. But as it’s written, it’s really not clear who set up this dynamic. This is where passive voice makes things truly confusing. Put that both of them include this up front so it’s clear this is a shared kink: “They included the chase as part of their game.”

 

6. “he was caught fair and square”

Clearly Da’shay is doing the catching, so leaving her out of the sentence is just lazy. If she’d doing the action, put her up front. “Da’shay caught him fair and square.

 

 

So, put it all together and write the passage in a more active (rather than passive) voice:

Tom carefully watched Da’shay as she moved toward him with that sway in her hips that meant she was in a mood to play and Da’shay considered Tom her favorite playtoy. Tom never had much luck with women, so he wasn’t sure how he had lucked out with Da’shay. However, they included the chase as part of their game, so he planned a good long run, and he’d keep running until Da’shay caught him fair and square. Then she could tie him down and use him as she liked, and she would.

 

 

So that’s how you kill passive voice (after recognizing it).

 

Look, I honestly don’t know who reads this blog. Is this useful? A waste of time? Should I be off writing my pirate novel?

 

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Submissives, fanfic, and an Apology to Jayne

code4Well, I finally updated my webpage, and I have to give up on Firefly.

No, don’t get your panties bunched. I still love the show. I still love the fanfic I have done with the show, but I just don’t write that much fanfic with it, so my fourth slot on my main page switched from Firefly to Stargate.

You see, the only thing I miss in Firefly is a sexual relationship between the characters. I started with Thoughts Colored Ugly where River’s telepathic powers allows her to see Jayne’s submissive nature, but she accidentally drives him away before she can step up and claim her man.

I then did Old War Horses, which I loved. Jim (The Sentinel) had been a Purple Belly government officer who had been turned into a government experiment. While fleeing from arrest, he runs into Mal and the Serenity, who have very strong Browncoat feelings. I loved watching these two try to continue a war when both of them had lost the war so long ago, and it let me play with my favorite dynamic—the strong submissive.

I love kick-ass submissives. I love the idea of someone having power and choosing to lay it at the feet of the person they love. I think you can see that in Liam and Tom and Ferro, and so many of my submissive characters.

Jayne is the ultimate strong submissive. When I see how, in canon, he was willing to accept his death if it came at Mal’s hands, when I saw him follow Mal into certain death with the Reavers when he couldn’t follow any other captain through a simple trade… I knew him. He was my strong submissive.

I thought I would be able to play with Jayne forever.

So I started Big Damn Dog, and I realized I had run out of fuel in the tank.

You see, there’s really nothing else I can change or fix in the series. Once I have my beautiful submissive Jayne settled, I’m happy with Joss’ world. I’m done. I don’t feel the call of any more epic stories—I can just go watch the series and be sated.

But Stargate? Oh, yeah. That’s just a hot mess.

The Not in Kansas series lets me totally stick my fingers in both SG1 (to poke Jack’s all symbiotes are evil button) and in Atlantis (to poke the let’s run this like a base and not the colony it is button). Face it, both ideas are pretty dumb. No species is evil as a whole—there’s just some other definition of right and wrong going on in that alien head. In my universe, the goa’uld are what happens when a perfectly sane symbiote has the bad luck to join with a psychotic/sociopathic ancient race and learn all about power and pain. And when Gibbs and Tony move to Atlantis in not one but two 100K epics, that poor city never saw it coming!

The Magical Cage let me poke at the Wraith/vampire connection by pulling Buffy in. The Shadows Universe let me use The Sentinel and their fear of government as well as La Femme Nikita to point out that the SGC is a scary covert ops world, we just see the friendly face of all the scary. We see that again in Dr. Sandburg Finds a Sentinel.

Dark Still Water gives Teal’c the voice he never got in canon, and lets the SG1 folk torture Jim (The Sentinel) for his most assholish season 4 behavior.  Airman Harris lets me poke at all the psychological damage these people take that rarely gets addressed in canon.

Yep, the Stargate universe feels more flawed. It ignores the very ideas I want to explore. It’s more interesting because it’s more flawed, so Stargate has now officially bumped Firefly off the main page.

I’m sorry, Jayne. I still love you!


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The Source of All Evil

Georgia teens indicted for brutal post-prom rape that left unconscious victim hospitalized

That’s the headline I read this morning. You can read it for yourself, but it’s a depressingly common story. It’s  HERE

It does seem like the tide is turning in the girl’s favor this time, unlike the Steubenville case; however, when reading the comments, I still ran into the all too common comments:

  • “He ate where I work Sunday and he was a really nice guy. With his girlfriend and his parents I really don’t think he did what they say…”
  • “He is the sweetest person out there. Thank you for that comment. The truth will come out!!!!”
  • “Thank you so much for posting this because it is true this kid has always been so nice and super respectful. I know his parents and live in his subdivision. This kid has always been nice as is his parents. Cannot tell you how much it is appreciated to see someone think about this objectively without even really knowing him. Praying for the truth to be revealed.”

You can be creeped out over  HERE

I think the problem is that people don’t understand evil.

They think evil stands out—that it’s ugly with meth sores or it’s a man with black, slicked back hair and a goatee. They watch television where evil is big and often overwhelms people until all they are is evil, even if they started with noble intentions and a desire to financially protect their families.  To them evil can’t be polite to neighbors or mow the lawn.

To them evil is something all-encompassing. It swallows everything

Which is stupid.

I grew up in a small town with a very involved and probably overprotective mother. The two biggest dogs on the block were our collie and the German shepherd two doors down. I dog sat when the family went on vacation. I walked the little boy home when he got in a fight at the bus stop. My mother gossiped with the wife, and the husband would ask me to play with the dog while he mowed the lawn to keep him out of the way.

They were normal.

Except for the part where the father turned out to be a pedophile who had killed and buried the little girl who had disappeared out of the neighborhood the second year we lived there. He wasn’t caught until after we moved, but the point is that evil doesn’t look evil. It looks pretty damn normal. Evil mows the lawn.  Evil gets upset when his son comes home with a black eye.  Evil plays with his dog.

And yet people assume that if someone smiles and treats their parents well that they can’t be fuck-all crazy or evil or just twisted up inside.

I bet these boys don’t even think of themselves as evil. They sodomized a girl with an object so brutally that she had to go to the hospital, but I bet they’d point to their girlfriends and grades and athletic trophies and say, “but look—I’m normal!”

Unfortunately, honey, evil is normal. Evil is about the choices we make, and making disgusting and morally bankrupt choices doesn’t require that you have a mustache to twirl or the sunken eyes of a drug addict. Hell, most drug addicts are too apathetic and lost to be evil anymore.

But every single one of us is one choice away from evil. That’s the real danger. And the second we turn evil into some black lagoon monster that eats Tasha Yar or a primordial force that threatens Buffy, then we can pretend that it isn’t in us.

These boys can pretend they aren’t evil.

That little twit in the restaurant can pretend Fields Chapman isn’t evil because he has a girlfriend.

The people in Steubenville can pretend that winning athletes aren’t evil.

But guess what? People can look perfectly normal and still make an evil choice. People need to learn that because as long as long as they think of evil as something “other,” they’re not going to notice the seed of it growing in their own heart.