ritaxis: (Default)
[personal profile] ritaxis
So my writing group tells me that was and were are bad, not altogether, but need to be very sparely used. Afterwar has a lot of description and a lot of past progressive tense. So I'm trying to replace almost every incidence of was and were with other verb things.

But I want that past progressive.

I do think they're on to something, though the thing they're on to is not what they say it is ("sentences in the passive"). I have been struggling to make the story more robust and frightening, and I tend to fail, I think because of my own personality defects, really.

I think I've figured out something that might satisfy the need to liven the prose as well as my need for the past progressive: retaining the past progressive structure but replacing the auxiliary verb with an "active" verb. We'll see.

But I refuse to join them in calling sentences with the structure "He was a bureaucrat" or "He was pulling the wagon" passive. Passive is "He was called a bureaucrat" or "The wagon was being pulled by him." That's a fact of grammar, not an opinion about style.

Date: 2006-10-26 06:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pameladean.livejournal.com
I'd like to squash with a rock whoever first decided that any construction employing any form of the verb "to be" was passive.

I think it was probably early grammar-checking programs. They certainly couldn't tell the difference.

And I think they're nuts, anyway. "To be" in most of its forms is practically invisible, like "said."


Date: 2006-10-26 10:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ritaxis.livejournal.com
The thing is that, as is often the case, they're right that there is a problem with the book. It's flat-affect, somehow, though it's about the aftermath of fairly harrowing events, and some of it is about those events themselves.

So it's the group's theory now that the problem is in the verbs. I was blown away -- not that they found a problem, but that they thought it was there. I was also frustrated because the piece they saw most recently had been taken apart at the seams and rebuilt according to what I'd learned from the previous meetings, and I'd missed it.

Date: 2006-10-26 06:57 pm (UTC)
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeborah
Gah! I blame Word for labelling every instance of was/were as passive.

Not sure what you mean by "retaining the past progressive structure but replacing the auxiliary verb with an "active" verb" - can you give an example? Because the auxiliary verb in past progressive is "was/were", I think, and "pulling" the main verb. <squint> Or something; I started leaking jargon as soon as I stopped studying linguistics; but anyway if was/were isn't the auxiliary then I don't know what is, and if you replace that with a different verb then it's not past progressive anymore.

In descriptions you can often use inflected verbs with a past progressive meaning, eg "The castle loomed" to mean "The castle was looming". But I think that works best with things that are necessarily static or almost so: by contrast "He pulled the wagon" doesn't mean the same thing as "He was pulling the wagon".

Date: 2006-10-26 10:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ritaxis.livejournal.com
Here's what I mean:

He was pulling the wagon becomes He strained at pulling the wagon Or He climbed, pulling the wagon. Or . . .
Which isn't really, grammatically, keeping the structure, because "pulling" is now doing a different grammatical job than before, but more properly I should have said I was retaining the participle and letting it do other things to keep the progressive feel while having more emotionally-charged words in the verb place.

It's not because I agree that there's something wrong with "was" and "were," it's because I'm willing to experiment with making the verbs denser.

Date: 2006-10-26 08:04 pm (UTC)
ext_12726: Me at the computer (worried muse)
From: [identity profile] heleninwales.livejournal.com
It's just as well your writing group doesn't read/write in Welsh! Welsh uses the past progressive far more than English does. And it's perfectly OK. That's just how it is. For instance, in Welsh you don't say, "I lived in Manchester," you say, "I was living in Manchester." There is a past perfect tense in Welsh, but it's not used in the same way we use it in English.

Besides, if you need reassurance that "was/were" is perfectly OK, you only need to look at any of your favourite authors and see how many times they use it.

Date: 2006-10-26 11:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ritaxis.livejournal.com
Yes, there's a reason I'm using past progressive -- but I'm willing to concede that I might be overusing it or I might be wrong in my strategy. There's layers and layers of past in the story, and it's told in story past, so I want to have different past tenses to distinguish and interconnect the layers. If I used simple past for everything (one of the possible strategies I was offered in good faith) I think it would exacerbate the flat-affect problem that I have.

Everything I hear about Welsh increases its exotic air.

Date: 2006-10-26 08:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lavenderbard.livejournal.com
While we're smacking writing groups for using the phrase "passive voice" incorrectly, can we smack them for using the phrase "run-on sentence" incorrectly too?

It's really hard to take even quite good advice, when it's handed out in the form of grammar cluelessness. :(

Date: 2006-10-26 11:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ritaxis.livejournal.com
Too right. If there are too many long sentences, or one sentence is so long you get lost in it, say that, don't pretend it's a run-on when it's not.

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