Paula’s not talking about the living dead, but about using the passive tense!
I invariably grit my
teeth when I see any writing advice about not using the word ‘was’. It appears regularly
in lists of ‘words to delete from your writing’.
In some cases, I
would agree, particularly when ‘was’ is used with an adjective. ‘He was happy’
or ‘She was upset’ are examples of telling, and it is far better to delete
‘was’ (plus the adjective) and show the emotions in a far more effective way.
However, some style ‘pundits’
try to tell us that the use of the word ‘was’ with a verb indicates passive
tense, and this is where I disagree. For example, ‘She was sitting by the
window when he entered the cafe’ is not passive. In this example, ‘was’ is part of the past
continuous tense, indicating an ongoing action or state i.e. she was already sitting there when he entered
the cafe. If we change the sentence to omit the word ‘was’, the meaning changes.
‘She sat by the window when he entered the cafe’ would give the impression that
she sat by the window at the same time as he entered the café.
So where do the
zombies come into all this? Recently I read that if you can insert by zombies after a verb, and your
sentence still makes sense (in a way!), you are using the passive mode.
So, for example, “He
was told (by zombies) to go
immediately to the police station’ or ‘His car was hit (by zombies) at the road junction’ are both passive sentences,
which could easily be converted into active mode e.g. His wife told him to go
immediately to the police station’ or ‘A large van hit his car at the road
speaking, the passive mode consists of the word ‘was’ followed by the past
participle of a verb. However, although the general advice is to avoid passive
verbs, there are times when they cannot be avoided. Sometimes this is when the
person(s) performing the action is/are unknown e.g. ‘The building was
demolished in the 1970s.’ Yes, you can insert by zombies in this sentence, and, assuming you actually know who
demolished it, you could change it to active tense, e.g. ‘The local council (or
the owners, or whoever) decided to demolish the building in the 1970s’ – but in
this case, you could be introducing extra information that is irrelevant to
your story, so this is an occasion when I think the passive tense is acceptable.
Therefore, by all
means use the by zombies trick to indicate
passive tense in your work, but, as with all these so-called ‘rules’, use your