Back about a month ago, Patricia C. Wrede wrote an excellent post which began with the following:
"Once again, I have been driven to frothing at the mouth by a would-be writer-and-critiquer’s thick-headedness in regard to both the construction of the English language and the so-called rules he’s trying to apply, and you folks are going to have to put up with the resulting rant."
I just came across the link again, and I thought I should pass it on, belated though it may be.
The problem here is that the attitude which drives poor Ms. Wrede to frothing is inevitable, I think. People don't notice how much they use the verb "to be" or how much they use passive voice. Then, once it has been drawn to their attention, they become hyper-attentive to it. (Note to anybody learning anything: become aware, not fixated.)
The other thing that makes people misunderstand the rules about passive voice is that passive voice is the bane of institutional memo writing. At work, you feel the pressure not to offend or blame anyone, so you use passive voice. "The ball was dropped," we say. "The decision was made to do this harebrained thing."
And so the first rule of business writing is to break this cowardly habit. Hunt down passive voice and kill it! Find some other way to be diplomatic! And one short cut to hunting down passive voice is to search for all instances of "was" or "is."
When we write fiction, we do not have that prime directive "do not blame the boss" hanging over our heads. So when we use passive voice it's for a different reason. It is no different than any other wordy or indirect construction. There is no reason to single it out for special treatment.
Anyway, for those who are getting hung up on arbitrary writing rules, read Ms. Wrede's post. Here it is again:
See you in the funny papers.