To Kill A Passive Voice

Do you have favorite books you re-read? One of mine is To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

#tokillamockingbird #susanstrasser #amwriting #susanstrasserblog

Have you ever been involved in a project, and wondered if you’ve wandered off “into the weeds,” as the modern saying goes? I have, but I don’t think I have. Or have I?!

I got my first feedback from my memoir group lately, and solicited their opinion about my use of passive voice in my writing; you know, using verbs such as “had been” instead of active verbs like “jumped.”

For example, here I write about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade: “It would be years before I knew that the singers lip-synched their songs, but the marching bands have always been loud and live!” Or would it be stronger writing to move the sentence’s parts around and say instead: “The performers lip-synched their songs, but the marching bands were loud and live!” and leave out the first bit in the original sentence?

Finding and refining my budding memoirist’s voice is NO JOKE!

I used to be in another writer’s workshop group and a colleague whom I respected AND who has several books published suggested edits that seem as mundane as that. It is nerve-wracking to me as the writer because I worry, will the reader know to what I am referring? And the more I thought about it, yes!

Doesn’t it boil down to trust between my reader and me?

And as the writer, have I recreated my world so they can enter and immerse themselves in it?

Does my voice do that yet?

As I’ve scoured a particular chapter for my use of passive voice verbs such as were, was, am, had, be, has, etc… and tried to convert these thoughts into active voice and more sensory language, I return to my “bible,” To Kill a Mockingbird.

I reread page one and there are a ton of these words. And as Ms. Lee begins to transport us to her world of being Scout (she is Scout, right? lol) and her brother Jem, I wouldn’t notice these words if I wasn’t looking.

And like anything good worth reading, when I pick it up again after an absence, I swear I don’t remember reading page one, ever. This is page one?! It talks about Jem having hurt his arm and when they became obsessed with Boo Radley. I want to keep reading but…. not right now. Ms. Lee makes it look so easy to write a book.

Oh, I guess I should mention that I read her novel like a memoir. Yup.

Also, it’s my turn to be workshopped Sunday from the rest of my memoir writers group. Wish me an open heart and open mind to listen to my colleagues’ constructive criticism. It can be tough!

In the meantime, I definitely plan on continuing my summer re-reading of To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee’s epic balance of active and passive voice and her fabulous 20th-century story ride again!


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