Dear Ms. Snark,
Recently an army of writers attacked my manuscript. One of them mentioned that I had a tendency to use a ton of passive verbs. I checked my manuscript at several Internet locations, and found that my passivity rate hovered about 32%. After two weeks of sleepless nights, I managed to removed over 300 occurrences of was/were, should/could, etc. Needless to say, I felt darn excited.
But alas, I decided to check passivity rate among some popular published authors. I scrounged up full chapter excerpts and plugged them into the good, ol' passivity reader, and found that most of the authors had verb passivity rates over 25%, with most coming in around 32%.
Did I just waste 50 hours of my valuable time turning simple, easy to read sentences, into complex piles 'o junk?
Chapter 1 of Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop, comes in at 32% passivity. The first chapter of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury lands home with a 31% passivity rate. I even found the Wizard of OZ, and a Stephen King excerpt, to have a 56% passive verb percentage.
Please help us understand. Are passive verbs bad? If so, why are most published books crammed full with 33% passive verb sentences?
Passive verbs are what they are.
Like handguns, they're only dangerous if you don't know how to use them or you fire them off in a crowded sentence cause you don't know any better.
I don't run your pages through a passive voice meter or any other kind of litmus test. I read it. If it sounds slow and turgid, I don't analyze why, I say "this sux" and send you a form letter.
I find it hilarious that you picked the first chapter of The Sound and The Fury for comparison. Have you read it? Faulkner I mean. I'm going to assume you've read your own work. Did you remember it's in the first person point of view of "an idiot" ?
Perhaps you meant to be humorous (or if you were Bella Stander-humerous). We could be amused but at this point, passive is our position of choice.