Faux Instructors, and Passive Constructions

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Welcome
* A New Story
* Yesterday
* A Rant: Faux Instructors
* Passive Constructions
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“You should go to your doctor and have your mouth sewn shut rather than hold forth to other writers on a topic you don’t know intimately.” Me, in a post about five years ago


Welcome to Brien C and any other new subscribers or readers of the Journal. I hope you will find it useful.

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A New Story

“The Odd Task” published yesterday on my Stanbrough Writes Substack.

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I didn’t write fiction yesterday, but I did get through a backlog of other stuff.

The only pertinent part of that was setting up my “new” writing ‘puter. While I was deciding which folders and files to keep on my it, I ran across a .txt file I wrote sometime in the past about Faux Writing Instructors.

I despise those folks. They cost young writers and would-be writers who don’t know any better a TON of time. Plus, people like me have to come along behind them and clean up their mess.

Have you ever tried to convince someone that the information they paid good money for is so much bullflop? They’re resistant to say the least. I don’t really blame them, but you have to get over stuff like that.

Anyway, I did a quick search of the Journal and didn’t find the post anywhere. So I thought I’d go ahead and post it today:

A Rant: Faux Writing Instructors

There are dozens of them out there. Maybe hundreds. Maybe thousands. So-called writing instructors who tell you things like

  • get rid of all instances of “was” because it creates passive construction. (Um, no, it doesn’t.)
  • get rid of all gerunds (some of them actually say “‘ing’ words”) because they create passive construction (No, they don’t.)
  • get rid of all instances of “had,” again because it creates passive contruction. (Again, no, it doesn’t.)
  • get rid of all adverbs (or “all” anything, for that matter).

Any advice to “always” or “never” or anything else absolute regarding the language is ludicrous at best. Words are your tools. Use them as appropriately as you can to convey your characters’ story.

Among faux instructors, my personal favorites are the spitwads (yeah, I substituted a “p”) who say things like

  • “I can’t explain passive construction (or “show-don’t-tell” or any number of other things), but I know it when I see it.”

No, they damn well don’t. If they did, they would do their job and explain it. With examples.

As I wrote earlier, these kinds of people annoy me. They should receive jail time for impersonating a writing instructor.

Yes, I’m serious. It should be a felony to say false things that directly affect other peoples’ lives and can lead them astray for years.

At the very least, faux writing instructors should all get in a big circle, join hands, and Shut The Hell Up. They rank right up there with “developmental” editors, book doctors, critics and critiquers, and others who think they somehow know your characters and your story better than you do.

If you EVER pay money for a writing course, and if the instructor says, “Wull, I can’t really explain [fill in the blank],” that should set off a warning bell in your head. And if he says “But I know it when I see it,” you should stand up, demand your money back Right Now and leave the class.

Because whatever he DOES know, he will poison your writing with all the things he DOESN’T know.

I’ve taught dozens of private writing seminars and presented hundreds of classes and sessions at writers’ conferences over the years, and I never said anything, not once, that I didn’t know to be absolutely true. And no, I don’t mean “just for me.”

When someone asks me a question, if I don’t know the answer, I tell them I don’t know the answer. Then I look it up, practice it, use it, and make it my own so I understand it thoroughly. THEN I pass it along.

In other words, I don’t just make something up or wave jazz-hands and slip to one side behind “But I know it when I see it.”

In every seminar I’ve ever taught, I tell my students to Question Everything, whether they hear it from me or any other instructor. Especially if the concept is not clear in their mind.

The instructor’s JOB is to know the topic and convey facts and examples to students. If the instructor can’t explain something, he has no business teaching it in the first place.

And when those people say “Get rid of all [fill in the blank] because it creates passive voice,” they flat don’t know what they’re talking about.

Passive Constructions

Listen. You can’t “fix” a passive construction by getting rid of ANYthing.

In a passive construction, the subject either disappears or becomes the object of the prepositon “by” at the end of the sentence. (I call this a “by phrase” so I don’t have to keep writing “a prepositional phrase that begins with the preposition ‘by’.”)

“Joe delivered the pizza” is an action sentence.

How can you tell? Because “delivered” is an active verb. The subject (Joe) did something (delivered) to something (the pizza, which is the direct object).

If you want to make that a passive construction, you have to write it in one of two ways:

Either “The pizza was delivered by Joe.” (Hear how awkward that is? And see how that construction moves the subject of the sentence to the end and makes it the object of the preposition “by”?)

Or “The pizza was delivered.” (This is exactly the same thing, but now the culprit who performed the action is completely hidden. This is called an “implied by-phrase.”)

The word “was” doesn’t form a passive construction. “Was” is a state-of-being verb, and it’s necessary. I defy you to describe a state of being without using either “was,” “is,” or “had been.” For example, try to describe the population of your city or town without using a state-of-being verb.

The state-of-being verbs are am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been, sometimes accompanied by has or have.

And in the case of the two examples above, “was” is also a linking verb, linking “pizza” to the predicate adjective “delivered.”

So there you go. Everything you never wanted to know about passive construction.

If you really want to check your work for passive constructions, look for any sentence that contain the verb “was” or “had been” AND an implied or actual by-phrase. Because it’s that by-phrase, not “was,” that creates passive voice.

That by-phrase is what you need to avoid. You know, when you can.

While looking to see wether I’d posted this topic before, I did run across a post that expands the topic in the old pro-writer blog over on HarveyStanbrough.com. That was back in July 2018. To read that one (complete with real-life examples), click Have a Clue.

Note: If you do visit that post, the second buy link for Punctuation for Writers no longer exists.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

“Can’t Put the Book Down” This! All about pacing from back when TKZ was useful.

Why People Read Books? Statistics on Consumer Behavior of Readers

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1320

Writing of

Day 1…… XXXX words. To date…… XXXXX

Fiction for November…………………… 52368
Fiction for 2023…………………………. 371012
Fiction since August 1………………… 38710
Nonfiction for November……………… 16770
Nonfiction for the year……………… 244660
Annual consumable words………… 612165

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 7
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 79
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 235
Short story collections…………………… 31

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Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

2 thoughts on “Faux Instructors, and Passive Constructions”

  1. Talking about faux instructors, the Dr. Fox effect works in a lot of cases.
    If instructor is confident and charismatic, he can tell anything, people will be sure they are learning something important. It looks weird, but motivation speakers earn gazillions just from this effect.

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