I spent some time today flipping through English Grammar Workbook for Dummies, because why not, and it struck me how much I’d forgotten from English class. If you are like me, you went over grammar in grade school and never heard about it again until college when your Creative Writing instructor commented on your prodigious overuse and misuse of commas.
For writers, it is a must to understand how our language works on a sentence level. Telling a story is one thing, but you must know how to translate that story from story and into words. Being an avid reader doesn’t make you a good writers, although I’m sure it helps.
One thing this book talked about was how verbs have moods. (Indicative, Imperative, and Subjunctive)
Sound familiar? Probably.
For a quick recap:
Indicative is stating the obvious, a fact, something true. (Jon rides a bike to work.)
Imperative is a command. (Find that journal.)
Subjunctive is also known as being passive. Ever been told you write in the passive tone? This is what they meant (or think they mean – I had one beta reader that had no idea what the passive tone was.) The subjunctive mood of a verb, according to Dummies, is for “condition-contrary-to-fact and indirect commands.”
I’m expanding on this mood because it’s such a big deal in writing.
By “condition-contrary-to-fact,” it means to talk about something that’s not true, i.e. “If I were a man, I’d wear flannel all the time. If he were smarter, he’d not drive down the one-way.”
In these sentences, that ‘if’ statement is a contrary condition based off something that’s not true.
And in the other corner of the subjunctive ring, is the infamous, dreaded, and misunderstood passive tone, which means to “express commands indirectly.”
Dummies’s example: “The bouncer requested that he remove himself from the line as soon as possible.”
What makes the tone passive?
Now, Dummies didn’t fully explain the passive tone, which I wish they would have. So, upon further research, I’ve come up with this better explanation: the object of a sentence becomes the subject.
Active: I painted the house = active. (Subject = I/Object = the house)
Passive: The house was painted. (Subject = the house/object…?)
So you see what I mean? Neither sentence is “wrong.” But one moves faster than the other. A story with a lot of passive sentences is boring and dry. Do books get publish that have the passive tone? Yes. Does that mean it’s okay to just ignore the passive tone and not learn to write differently? No.
One thing new and aspiring writers often don’t do is learn as much about writing as they can. They want to pump out a novel and called themselves writers and not worry about how good their writing it. Just because it’s a book, doesn’t mean it’s a good book.