I’ve always tried to avoid ‘creative writing’ websites on the grounds that some of their ludicrious, narrow-minded ideas might get stuck in my head and distract me from actually writing. But I let my guard down for a moment and read a small piece about what the writer thinks is the ‘passive voice’. The example of ‘wrong’ they use was this:

She realized she’d reached the point of no return. She had to kill him.

And the example of ‘correct’ was this:

The point of no return. Breached. She had to kill him.

Apparently the former creates distance between the reader and the character, whereas the latter doesn’t. What I loathe about ‘creative writing’ rules and guidelines is that they assume that there’s only one novel in the world, and there’s only one way of writing. The woman writing the article doesn’t point out that the former is correct if that’s what the writer is trying to achieve; the example is out, RIGHT OUT. It is Anathema. And so are a list of words that the writer doesn’t think should be included in fiction: ‘hoped’, ‘realized’, ‘considered’…

Personally, I can see the value of creating distance between the reader and the character. What if I want the reader to study the character rather than ‘be’ the character? What if I think that writing in the stylised style of the latter example is the equivalent of using musical cues in cinema to tell the audience to feel ‘sad’ at the sad point and ‘scared’ at the scared point, a method that defeats its own purpose by being too heavy-handed?

No no no — verboten! And furthermore, no editor will EVER consider your manuscript if you don’t abide by their doctrine, so there’s no incentive for you to rely on your own judgement at all. You may be making a statement, but no one will ever hear it, so what’s the point?

Fuck it. If the editor is, like this creative writing instructor, so narrow-minded that they can’t see the value of what this writer thinks is the passive voice, then they’re probably utterly negligible. I may reduce my chance of having my book published by breaking their cruddy rules but at least I’ll have my pride.

This is why I can never take advice from anyone who holds or who has attended a creative writing course — why I’ll never allow them to critique my writing. They’ll be so distracted by their black and white ‘active voice good, passive voice bad’ bullshit (and other things) that they won’t be able to judge whether the passive voice is actually appropriate or not.

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