I recently got a response from a beta reader of Like Fire that informed me I was using "passive" language. Language like "He was" and "they were" and so-on. After a bit of discussion, this turned out to have originated with English teacher instruction in the past. Apparently the long-ago English teacher crossed out all uses of past tense, i.e. "Joe was reading the newspaper" and put "Joe read the newspaper." This instruction was oriented toward "Joe was reading" was "passive," while "Joe read the newspaper" was "active."
Thanks, teach. "Joe was reading the newspaper" indicates an observation made by a viewpoint character if the writer has some control of narration. "Joe read the newspaper" would indicate either a different observation, or - that Joe is, himself, the third-person viewpoint character.
Passive voice isn't a progressive, indicative past tense verb (was reading). It is the reversal of "normal" subject-verb order in a sentence. By use of verb tense, it enables the subject to either come second in the sentence, and at times, to be completely elided. It is not the use of past or conditional verb tense to convey various nuances of meaning. Passive voice is, in and of itself, not bad. It is only bad in the sense that it tends to conceal the action or actor in a sentence. "The minutes were recorded." Thanks for telling me! Who recorded them? Possibly, the person doesn't want anyone to know in case bad questions are asked later. By whom? Why bad people, of course.
And then there's the "eternal present tense" - another recent conversation. Having written a story using this tense, as well as first, second and third-person narration just because I was an idiot reading The Death of Artemio Cruz and figured I'd try it, too -
HA HA HA HA HA HA - Carlos Fuentes ... frickin' Carlos Fuentes has a 3.9 rating on this book on Goodreads! My God I imagine the English and Spanish grammar police were/are after him ... "Recommended for Mexican history fans."
But back to "the eternal present tense." All of E.L. James' 50 Shades of Gray is written in the first-person, "Ana" viewpoint character present tense. How she managed to tell a coherent story including some aspects of Ana's perspective and Christian Gray history over this long narrative using this convention is a mystery and wonder to me. I tried copying it and became so exhausted that I couldn't make it past 2-3 chapters myself. I found my brain shutting down and access to the (admittedly, idiotic) characters' thoughts and feelings to be extraordinarily limited.
Just as Artemio Cruz is essentially dying after his long and somewhat evil and frustrated life in the Yo tense (and heaven forbid, the "Tu" tense ... 2nd person! Aiii!!!) so too does Ana experience the full Christian Gray-ness as it happens.
She made it work. I'm not saying 50 Shades of Gray is a masterpiece of literature. But E.L. James is nowhere near the "bad writer" some have falsely accused her of being.
I am up at 3 AM. Kiele and Meredith have spent plenty of time laughing and carousing, waking me long before my planned crack of dawn wake-up time. I find this aggravating, but say nothing. Instead, I rise and make coffee. I sip the black coffee as I work and plan my day. I text my beloved; he texts me.
My heart beats fast with astonishment to see a review of Female Science Fiction Writer by a handsome, gifted young man of whom I've had no prior knowledge. I look at the handsome face of Carlos Fuentes and think, here is the man who gave rise to the advertising icon: The Most Interesting Man in the World. Rest in peace, great writer. He is worth far more than a 3.9 rating on Goodreads.