When I was in junior high and high school, we spent a lot of time focusing on eliminating passive voice from our writing. Though I may have cursed the Downingtown Area School District's secondary English department while I learned under their tutelage, I am immensely grateful for the way they taught me good mechanics back in the day. Now, when I say passive voice, I mean the classic, grammatical definition, which is: "the voice used to indicate that the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient (not the source) of the action denoted by the verb." It is a very specific construction rule...not a nebulous, opinion-based situation as some critiquers would have you believe.
The phrase "passive voice," in some writing circles, has come to encompass anything that happens in the story that is a little weak in terms of character choices or wording. People seem to throw the term like a lead blanket over phrases written with being verbs, or in perfect tense, or just blandly. THIS IS NOT WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT--and it makes me crazy when people call that kind of stuff passive voice.
|I think I need this shirt.|
Progressive and perfect tenses are sometimes absolutely necessary in order to convey accurate chronology. The presence of a being verb has next to nothing to do with passive voice. Granted, whenever you can replace one of the twenty-three being verbs with an active verb, by all means, do so! And sometimes, passive voice works for effect or clarity. I would argue that instance comes once in a very great while, but it does arise.
My challenge to the new writers out there: if you didn't get a thorough grammar education in school (and if you are under about sixty years of age, chances are you didn't, because grammar became very unfashionable in the 1960's) do yourself the favor of studying up on your own. I know I'm still learning each day--filling in gaps that I've forgotten or never heard. In a day and age where actual literacy and deftness with language is on a rapid decline, we as writers must hold the line. Knowing what is good, solid construction, why, and when to depart from it, is just the beginning--the raw lumber from which excellent stories are built.
(And yes, I fully note the irony that the last fragmental portion of this post indeed utilizes passive voice!)