Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In response to a question about passive voice and "-ing" verb phrases

I think the "rules" can be useful in that they help you notice things you wouldn't otherwise notice.

Yes, passive verbs can reduce the power of actions. Yes, too many "-ing" verb phrases can become boring and repetitive. But I think eventually you'll get to a point in your writing when you instinctively know when using the passive or using an "-ing" verb phrase feels right.

I like to use repetition in my writing. I find it creates a rhythm, and that rhythm can be a poetic and powerful thing. But then I get critiques from less experienced writers who think I've made a mistake. Repetition as a style choice? That's not something they learned in the writing classes they took. Surely, repetition is redundant and should be avoided at all cost.

But I know better.

I know it works for what I'm trying to achieve, and so I know how to break the "rule."

So in the end, don't get rid of telling just because it's telling and the "rules" say you show. Don't get rid of passive words because the rules say they're bad. And don't get rid of "-ing" or "to be" phrases because someone told you should avoid them at all cost. Look at your story. Do these things work in your story? Do they help you achieve what you want to achieve? If they do, let the so-called "rules" be damned.



  1. I agree, Shevi. Different rhetorical devices, such as repetitive phrases, can be effective if used right--and sparingly! IMO :-)

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  3. This is the fun part of writing, once you learn the rules and really understand them, then you can decide when to break them to achieve something specific in your book.

  4. Good advice, Shevi! I agree.