Passive sentence structure in a SPEC...

FilmJumper

Member
Here's the tip... Don't use it in your SPEC script... And IF YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST USE THEM, shoot for maximum usage of 5%.

Why?

Excessive use of passive sentence structure will make your action paragraphs flat and less interesting. Plain and simple. Additionally, passive sentence structure shouts inexperience.

For those of you who do not even know what passive sentence structure is, here's an example...

Rex is seen walking down the sidewalk.

Many new writers and writers new to writing spec screenplays often end up with excessive use of passive sentence structure...

*NOTE: If you're writing your own screenplay to make your own film, you can obviously do whatever you like.

It's fairly easy to recognize passive sentence structure because the verb phrase almost always includes on of the following:

be, am, is, was, were, are, or been.

Find those passive sentences and turn them into active sentences... Active sentences are much more powerful... Let's take the above example and turn it into an active sentence...

Rex walks down the sidewalk.

Overusing passive sentence structure (also known as passive voice) in your action/description sentences can cause readers to lose interest or even become confused and you NEVER want that to happen with your spec script.

Generally speaking (although not always), active sentence structure (also known as active voice) is clearer and more direct than those in passive voice. Use of active sentence structure keeps your action and description flowing.

Passive sentence structure does make sense when the character performing the action is obvious, unimportant, or unknown or even when a writer plans to postpone mentioning the character until the last part of the sentence or to avoid mentioning the character at all.

Passive sentence structure is effective in such circumstances because it highlights the action and what is acted upon rather than the character performing the action but be warned... Excessive use can get your screenplay tossed.

I know readers and now, one major producer that flips through screenplays LOOKING for excessive use of passive sentence structure.

*NOTE: If you've sold screenplays and have a reputation, you can get away with a lot more use of passive voice but even then, it is considered to be a sign of weak writing.

What if your screenplay is outstanding? It all depends on who's reading the script... Get a gatekeeper who won't read past 10 pages because of typos, incorrect format, passive sentence structure, etc., and it won't matter how outstanding your screenplay is...

After all... It often comes down to a numbers game so why take chances?

filmy

edit...

Links with more explanation:

http://www.asu.edu/duas/wcenter/passive.html
http://web.uvic.ca/wguide/Pages/SentPassiveVoice.html

Nice PDF file on passive voice:
http://www.uvsc.edu/owl/handouts/revised handouts/writing style/active passive voice.pdf
 
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Great article. I hate passive voice setence construction also! The funny thing is that many academic books are written entirely in the passive voice. Someone should rewrite the entire ROCKY script entirely in the passive voice. Oops, it appears that most of this paragraph has been written in the passive voice.
 

knightly

Member
I used to have a huge problem with passive voice...I broke it by running the grammar checker in word 5.1 (still the best version of word ever). I would get discouraged that it told me I was writing in the passive voice. I changed it!

SVO - Subject, Verb, Object. If your sentence sticks to these elements, you will be fine.

I ate meat.

Nice strong sentence. Psychologically the passive voice denotes a lack of confidence. You want to be confident in your writing. It's what you're trying to sell...have you ever heard ron popiel say his products were o.k.? He makes me want that pancake flipper/beer bottle opener/jerky dehydrator because it's the best thing ever.
 

clive

Member
My God. I just figured out where I'm going wrong.

The one thing I'd never considered was whether the person who who reading the script was a "reader;" by that I mean someone who choses and enjoys reading books.

Like most writers I'm an avid reader; but that doesn't mean that the people reading the spec scripts are.

Damn it ... why didn't I figure this out before?

It's so obvious that the writing style has to be sparse and pumped up, simply because the target reading audience probably have low attention thresholds for the written word.

That probably means dumping my use of semi-colons and colons; looks like it's back to the easier to comprehend (-) and (...)

Thanks Filmy ... genuine insights into the industry again ... priceless

(damn ... wrong thread ... too little time to correct it ... Clive hurtles from the room. Dash Clive, dash ... sorry, but I loved those Janet and John learning to read books.)
 
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FilmJumper

Member
Science especially...

filmscheduling said:
Great article. I hate passive voice setence construction also! The funny thing is that many academic books are written entirely in the passive voice. Someone should rewrite the entire ROCKY script entirely in the passive voice. Oops, it appears that most of this paragraph has been written in the passive voice.
I've read a ton of science papers recently as research and I notice that they really embrace passive voice...

But clive is correct... You never know who's going to read your script so you want that one read to be a pleasant and memorable experience. Passive voice will certainly sabotage that opportunity.

filmy
 

knightly

Member
Academia uses the passive voice almost entirely to allow them to back out of statements they've made if they're proven wrong. The poeple who write academic papers without using the passive voice sound like extremists and radicals to the rest of the community. Any new ideas that come under scrutiny tend to go against the established doctrine in that setting, so you need to be able to state things in non-aggressive ways to not insult your contemporaries who could be giving you research funding/grants for your radical ideas.
 

Shaw

Member
Definitely true about academia knightly! I often have to remind myself to write in the active voice since much of my writing is academic in nature.

SVO - Subject, Verb, Object. If your sentence sticks to these elements, you will be fine.
Very good summary. The only difference is a focus on subject vs object. Many people get confused when reading about this since it's often described by the linguistic methods used to create the specific focus (eg. swap S and O and use prepositional phrases etc. etc).
 

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