“I Was Allowed to Believe . . .”

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Sadly, U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene was not a student in one of my writing classes. If she had been, she never would have come up with this statement constructed in the passive voice:

“I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true.”

MTG

A general rule in writing is to choose the active voice over the passive voice.

Here’s the difference between them:

If MTG had been using the active voice, she would have written, “I believed things that weren’t true.” In the active voice, the subject of the sentence, “I”, engages in the action, “believed.” It’s a simple, declarative, clear way to write.

By contrast, in the passive voice, the subject of the sentence doesn’t act, but instead is acted upon. “I”  “was allowed to believe.”

What’s not clear in this muddled, passive construction is who or what acted upon the subject “I.” Who allowed this belief to happen in MTG? Was it God? Was it conspiracy theorists? Was it her parents or friends? Was it a former president?

When writing in the passive voice, you end up with weak sentences that obscure meaning and deflect agency.

The other part of MTG’s sentence that I would request a student to edit is the word “things.”

“Things” is a noun. We all know the word. But it’s an abstract word and it can refer to any number of objects, facts, events, circumstances, and more.

Another helpful guideline to make your writing stronger is to choose concrete language over abstract language. Concrete language is specific and particular. Abstract language is general and vague. For example, instead of using the word “things” MTG might have written: “forest fires caused by Jewish space lasers, school shootings staged by the anti-gun lobby, the hoax that was 9-11, and a Democratic cannibalistic, pedophiliac cabal.”

See? That’s specific. It’s the difference between abstract and concrete language.

So if we make a few adjustments to make MTG’s sentence stronger and clearer, it might read:

“I believed that wildfires were caused by a Jewish space laser, the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings were staged by the anti-gun lobby, 9-11 was a hoax, and the Democrats are really a cannibalistic cabal of pedophiles.”

I know that’s what MTG had meant to say. Oh, if only Marjorie had put down her guns long enough to attend one of my writing classes. But, as they say, passively, “Mistakes were made.”   

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.

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