PASSIVITY SEEMS TO BE A TREND LATELY
Maybe it’s something in the water. Maybe editors are getting lazy, or their well-established authors are refusing to bend. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I read one to two books a week, I see more of it. Being not only a writer but a voracious reader, I’m constantly exposed to the word almost from the moment I wake up until I go to bed each day. Of course, there’s a break when I go to work, but even there, I’m exposed to words all day.
How many times have I mentioned how much the phrases began to and started to bug me? I tried to go back so I could reference past articles and gave up when I found I’d mentioned those phrases in at least two of them and they weren’t even the main article I was looking for. The point is, those two phrases are very passive and vague. For those of you new to my site, both phrases bug me because in my mind, either you did or you didn’t. Either they did or they didn’t (in third person). Why beat around the bush and waste words?
Elaine started to walk to the door. No! Elaine walked to the door. Joe began to climb the stairs. No! Joe climbed the stairs. The only time they would start to (or begin to) is if they’re interrupted before they get there, or before they even “start/begin” walking/climbing there. Most of the time, when I see those phrases, the author, 99% of the time, lets them get to that door or up those stairs and never interrupts a thing.
I’ll name names this time. I just read Zero Hour by Clive Cussler and his co-author Graham Brown. It was a decent story and I would’ve loved it except for one extremely annoying quirk that made a huge difference. The authors used began to so much that I started counting them during the prologue (and never stopped). There, I just found a legitimate use of the word started. I don’t mind the occasional use of either word. They’re both legitimate words in our language, but they need to be used appropriately, occasionally and in context.
The prologue had so many begans, I could’ve eliminated a good-sized paragraph’s worth of wasted words. That trend continued throughout the entire book. By the time I hit the end, instead of enjoying the story as much as I usually do, I developed a habit of counting begans per page/per chapter. If I’d eliminated all of them in the book, I could’ve deleted a short chapter’s worth of text. Literally.
I’ve never seen a Cussler book marred by such bad editing and on top of that, this trend made me look for other flaws I don’t normally worry about, like head-hopping and other passive phrasing, etc.
What is the writing world coming to?
Don’t think I’m just picking on one of my writing heroes.
I just read Inferno, by Dan Brown. Loved it. A lot of people hate him, maybe for his stance on the Catholic Church, maybe sour grapes, or maybe for his own set of writing quirks. I’ve noticed plenty of flaws, but my only real beef with this one, outside of a few minor plot quibbles, was that after the barrage of began to’s in Zero Hour, I was on the lookout for them in Inferno.
Mr. Brown used them more than he needed to. I winced a few times, but at least I didn’t resort to counting them per page. Once again, he became passive in spots. A little passive is okay. Speaking of which, has anyone noticed the title of this article? Did you all catch the passivity? There are no began to’s or started to’s in it, but what else might be passive? What words, phrases?
If any of you are paying attention, I’ll let you tell me in feedback.
In the meantime, happy writing!
On another note, I recently sent out a batch of pitch letters and packages from positive responses I received at the most recent Las Vegas Writer’s Conference. I received my first response back today (a very nice one, I might add, but still…). I’m now at 662 rejections and counting!