Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Consoling the Bereaved

The other day a dear friend of mine told me that his beloved father—and I quote—“was killed in a car crash last week.” I could tell that this tragic event still tore him up inside. I decided that the best way to console my friend was to help him improve his grammar and style so that he could tell his story with more impact and move people in a greater way.

“You might want to consider avoiding the passive voice in your narrative,” I responded. He looked at me strangely, almost as if he knew I was about to impart to him sagacious counsel and perhaps help him lift the stone from his heart. “You said that your father ‘was killed,’ that is, you use the verb ‘to be’ and the past participle. I recommend that you ‘activate’ your language thus: ‘The car crash killed my father,’ or something to this effect. Or you could simply say: ‘My father died in a car crash.’ The active voice offers a more lively description of events to engage the audience and retain the listener’s interest.” My friend had a stunned look on his face, which I took to be a commingling of amazement and gratitude for these insights. He walked away in silence. I was glad that I had the opportunity, however small, to help my friend.