Decidedly Passive

Last night DH tried out a new brain teaser on Middle Son. 

“Five frogs are sitting on a log.  Four decide to hop off.  How many are left?”

Middle struggled for a moment before choosing the obvious answer–which, of course, was wrong.

I, of course, almost fell off my bar stool because I’m a bit immature that way and thought DH was funny.  Likely why I decided to marry him. 

My writing brain, however, locked in on one word and became a bit perturbed.

I’ve been in a total of five critique groups over the years and one of the most passive forms of writing I’ve ever seen is the use of the word decided.

He decided to order Chinese food.

This is generally followed by some action or dialogue with Chinese food miraculously appearing on the doorstep five pages later.

How many frogs are left?


Deciding to jump off the log and actually doing it are two completely different things.  Deciding to order take out and actually dialing the phone are two completely different things.

Deciding to get married and actually tying the knot?  Yeah, two different things.  Thank God I got off my wishy-washy tushy and did something about my decision or my four kids would have been bas born out-of-wedlock.

Is there ever a time to decide rather than actively do? 


10 responses to “Decidedly Passive

  1. Well I think there are times where actively choosing a passive wording (haha) can benefit a story. It has applications when it comes to pacing or directing the focus of a sentence or paragraph to one thing instead of another.

    As far as “deciding” though, I tend to agree with you. Why tell me a character decides to do something? Just show them doing it! Of course, to be my own devil’s advocate, there are probably a few instances where it could be acceptable. In my first ms, there was a relationship where both people were hesitant and tried to suppress their feelings because of potential social/legal issues. The story, like most things I write lol, is also very character-driven. So I could see a scene where one character goes over his internal conflict and then “decides” he wants to pursue her anyway, damn the consequences.

    Of course, I didn’t do that. I showed him going to pick her up for a date, while inwardly thinking all those “decision” thoughts 🙂

    • I’m not actually sure if I’ve kept a decided in my completed manuscripts, but you are right. When a character makes a conscious decision after wrestling with choices, we might clarify this in our writing. I’ll have to do a find and replace to see if I have any decideds tucked away.

  2. You had me at first. Like an idiot I would have blurted out “One!” That pesky passive voice.

  3. I guess if you’re deciding to feel a certain way, you might be actually feeling it. I’ve decided to be happy. Of course, if you’re “deciding” that, it’s probably because you’ve realized you are already happy and are just not going to let things get you down….Ack! Philosophy!

    • Barbara, it’s too early for philosophy! My brain shut down because I don’t know if there is an answer. Except to say that I think on a very real level we do determine our moods based on what we decide!

      That said, I am going to have a wonderful day and I hope you do as well!

  4. Nice. Liked it.

    I can suggest you another site with brain storming brain teasers. I have tried it and believe me if you are a brain teasers lover who loves to solve brain teasers then try solving out these Brainteasers and find out how smart you are.

    Best of Luck!!!

  5. I think the nastiest thing about passive voice is when it slips by your writerly eye, b/c it doesn’t always “read” passive. If that makes sense. Especially when writing in 1st POV you can end up with a lot of passivity that is weighing down your ms, but it’s sneaky passive. A little bit of re wording can usually clean that right – once a better eye catches it.

    • Passive can be very difficult to spot. Especially in our own writing.

      I guess I’ve never noticed the difference in PsOV when writing. Thanks for pointing that out!

  6. Pingback: Saturday links « creative barbwire (or the many lives of a creator)

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