Early each morning, bleary-eyed, first cup of coffee in hand, we stumble into our home offices. We are the caffeine-fueled, hygiene-challenged, badly-dressed writers who slave at our computers for hours before finally deciding it’s time to take a shower and put on clean underwear. We are (cue ominous music) the Pajama People.
We work alone, sometimes in the dark while our minions sleep. (I’ve always wanted to say I had minions, but I don’t think my cats really count. They think that I’m their minion.)
Anyhoo, therein lies the real problem. We are alone. While we single-mindedly concentrate our gray matter on finding the perfect descriptor, without us realizing it, dark life forms creep into our workspaces and silently invade our computers. These creatures drain the life out of our writing, insinuating their soul-sucking passive voice. They are—the zombies.
A zombie invasion is a death sentence for us Pajama People, but we can thwart their advance by using an old trick to identify and destroy their lethal passivity. This simple technique is similar to that old favorite of feckless freshmen everywhere, the fortune cookie trick, where at the end of the fortune you tack on the words: in bed. “A lifetime of happiness awaits you—in bed. You will live long and eat many fortune cookies—in bed. You are a poor, pathetic, gullible fool who seeks advice from baked goods in bed.” Though, obviously, this addition is just for yucks, the zombie invasion is deadly serious.
At least it’s deadly to your writing.
Here’s how it works. Look at the following sentence lying there like a big, inviting bowl of brains, just asking to be eaten: “The house was haunted.” If zombies can hijack this sentence and it still makes grammatical sense, it’s passive. “The house was haunted by zombies.” Yes, it’s passive. The soulless brain-eaters have sucked the life from this sentence. But by using the active voice, where by zombies cannot be tacked onto the end, you write a death sentence. “Ghosts haunted the house” is a zombie killer.
Here’s another passive sentence and the easy fix. “The haunted house was opened at midnight by zombies,” can be changed to “The haunted house opened at midnight.”
Even buying goods on the Internet can be passive. “Your order has been placed by zombies.” (They’re probably ordering new shoes. All that foot-dragging takes a toll.) The lifeless passive voice creates a barrier that businesses can hide behind. I mean, who really placed my order? Identify yourself. Would a personal pronoun kill you? Some companies believe that the passive voice makes them sound important and official. I think it makes them sound cold and officious. I’d rather see: “We placed your order.” We meaning real live humans.
So Pajama People, go on the offensive and fight off the attack of the zombies. And remember, in this battle, fuzzy bedroom slippers are optional.