Like A Precious Jewel: Best If Cut

Publisher John Murray was known as a man with a sense of humour.  He read through a manuscript from an aspiring author one day and wrote this encouraging note of critique: “Sir, I have read your manuscript and it is like a precious jewel.  And like a precious jewel, it will sparkle the more if cut.”

Reblogged from

Passion For Passive Voice

Attending a writing workshop, the subject was raised as to passive versus active voice.*  It was explained to us by the workshop leader that the PV is seen as a grave error by modern editors.

Later, while a lovely walk in the country was being enjoyed by me, my mind was settled into by a brilliant thought: a writing should be composed as completely in the PV as possible, that its virtues may be exemplified more clearly!  Thus this writing is being offered to you as an alternative to thinking being promoted by short-sighted editors. (Wherever a slip into the active voice is deemed necessary, proper ID will be made by AV.)

One thing that was explained to us by our instructor was that the verb “to be” is always used (by writers) to form the passive voice.  Hence, we were told, a careful examination must be made of each “to be” verb in every form, lest a passive voice be allowed (by careless writers) to slip in.

The passive voice is formed (by anyone) when the subject of a sentence – the doer of the deed – is hidden (by the one telling the tale) somewhere among stated or implied end-of-sentence phrases, the object of the sentence being forced to lead the way.

Hence the active-voiced “I slipped on a banana peel” is turned into the passive “A banana peel was slipped on” — by me, but I may not prefer to add that part, lest (subjunctive) I appear clumsy.  After all, it might have been dropped by someone else, which makes it their fault anyway (AV), right?

Whenever such convolutions are made in sentences (by the writer), there must always be a “by”–written or not.  For purposes of clarification during this essay, these shall be duly marked (by me) in brackets.

During our workshop it was explained to our instructor that the passive voice can be used (by writers) to remain anonymously humble – or leave someone else anonymously humble.  The self-promoting “I” can be buried forever (by the writer) in the “back forty” of the sentence.

And not only “I & me” but any other indication of something outstanding being done by someone among us.  Several reasons may be offered (by whoever wants to) for this: if some action has been taken (by whoever) that may be deemed (by the hearer) offensive, the perpetrators can be forever hidden (by the teller of the tale.)

Likewise, a solution can be found (by someone) without any congratulatory pat on the back to the finder thereof.  And if it was a poor solution it will be unknown (by the ones upset) on whom to put the blame.  Thus the most words can be used (by the prudent) with the least information actually being revealed.  (This same policy has been specialized in by government officials for ages.)

Passive voice can also be used (by writers spilling their lifeblood–or someone else’s) to avoid total humiliation or acrimonious legal actions.

Of course, objections to the use of PV are usually raised by word-count-conscious editors.  The most said (by writers) using the least words remains (AV) ever the passion of those insensitive red-pen types.  That all shall be blabbed up front (by the writer), subject first, is insisted upon by them.

Nevertheless, a continuous demand shall always be held forth (by those afraid of offending) for the obscurity of PV.*  So let it be learned by us to execute it well in our writing endeavours.  Should it be wished by modern editors to execute it literally, theirs will be the loss in the end.  Much will remain unwritten to avoid embarrassment.

(*Dangling &/or confusing clauses may be one undesirable result.  By using great vigilance, avoidance of these can be accomplished.)

Anonymity is wished for by the author lest she be blacklisted by the aforesaid editors.

This week I plan to post reprints of articles I’ve written for “The Craft of Writing” in our His Imprint E-newsletter and/or articles I wrote in connection with a writing class I took in 2010.  Hope you enjoy them.