Static voice is an ancient topic first identified though by a different label in The Poetics of Aristotle. Aristotle labels the concept "significance" and incorporates other features related to syntax and subject, predicate, and object references.
Seymour Chatman's Story and Discourse delves more explicitly into state-of-being statements and coins the term static for the voice. The opposite of static is dynamic voice or, as Chatman labels the voice's statement type, process statement.
Less so though likewise, Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction remarks about state-of-being statements.
As well, grammar handbooks distinguish passive voice from active voice and offer skimpy guidance for distinctive active voice. The dynamic-static distinction from passive-active noted is degree of finite-nonfinite time span and specific predicate, subject, object detail. In all, the related total static-dynamic voice content across the gamut amounts to a few paragraphs and individual sentences here and there. A point of interest is the voice concept is not new, rather episodically trails back to early expression qualification.
What is substantively new at least since Chatman, is a label and a qualification and quantification and function for passive-active and static-dynamic voice applications. More so, when, where, what, how, and why to use one or another for best, strongest, and clearest reader effect.
Passive voice is a mechanical consideration, places an object of a predicate's agency in sentence subject position and optionally leaves the true sentence subject out or places the sentence subject -- the enactor -- of the predicate's action in object position. Passive voice is always a state-of-being statement -- always static voice.
Simple passive voice example: A ball was rolled by a child.
Predicate "was rolled"
True sentence subject, doer of the predicate action "a child"
True sentence object, done to of the predicate action, "A ball"
To be auxiliary verb "was" or similar verbs mark passive voice, as well as static voice. They are state of being in suspended nonfinite time stasis -- static voice
Also, "by," a preposition, or otherwise an adverb of a preposition use marks passive voice, though, if the object position sentence subject is omitted, the preposition is also omitted.
For example, A ball was rolled down the street. The true enactor of the predicate action is omitted. "down" is an adverb used as a preposition to link the true predicate complement in sentence object position to the predicate. Note that "down" when connected to a verb is a particle word, a verbal auxiliary adverb or preposition for two-word verb formations, usually a directional adverb, up, down, across, inside, outside, in, out, left, right, etc., or a directional preposition, into, in to, in, by, from, to, etc.
In active voice: A child rolled a ball down a street. Static voice no less, though. That example fits into the third of three distinctive static voice categories. More anon. Note not all static voice is passive voice, and not all active voice is dynamic voice.
Second category, static voice uses participle verb predicates: simple past, simple present, simple future, as well as perfect and progressive tenses, of the to be auxiliary verb type as well, the third category, as standalone verbs of a nonfinite time span nature.
The former, for example, A child was rolling a ball down a street. Active voice, no less, though static from a to be state of being expression. Nonfinite time span. Summary actually, perhaps explanation, tell, in other words. The main verb is a present participle -ing ring rhyme word and of an ongoing, progressive tense. Unnecessary and unwarranted in any case.
The latter, the third category, a nonfinite standalone verb, for example, the prior above example, "A child rolled a ball down a street" uses the past participle verb "rolled" rather than a dynamic process statement verb. The verb appears to be simple past, though. The action could be interpreted as ongoing of a nonfinite time span or a once-and-done action and is ambiguous and vague regardless. Context and texture content clarifies. The sentence, though is already mostly complete in and of itself; therefore, antecedent or subsequent sentences or complex-type clauses, phrases, or words clarify and specify the time span, as finite as indicated. Otherwise, a clearer verb is warranted if indicated. As well, considerations for finite subject and object specificity, "significance," are warranted if indicated.
Boy Hitler bounced once a swastika-decorated murder ball off the asphalt of Strausser Lane. Specific, significant, finite time span details. Dynamic voice and a sophisticated language yet a simple sentence type, not compound or complex -- accessible by readers of a seventh grade level language arts and sciences level. The strength of such a process statement is the subject is posed in tension. He bounced the ball once. Once is the operative finite process statement word. What will the boy do next? The preparation setup is in suspension, awaits timely warranted resolution. Also, not all process statements, active voice, are dynamic voice.
Now, when, where, why, etc., passive, active, static, or dynamic voice are warranted.
Passive voice, mechanically, when a predicate's action enactor is either unknown or unimportant. Aesthetically, passive voice is warranted for impersonal expression and likewise when summary and explanation simplicity is warranted; for example, for transition setup, rarely, if ever, for starts or preparations or ends or resolutions. Though a passive voice expression could be used for a partial resolution segment, so long as not for a full stop end.
Active voice, mechanically, for when a predicate's action enactor is known and important. Aesthetically, active voice is a procession of active sentences that express a sequence of events, develop a profluence that drives an overall action forward toward a conclusory end. The strength of active voice is apparent, forward movement.
Static voice, mechanically and aesthetically, for when a suspended state of being stasis is indicated.
Dynamic voice, mechanically and aesthetically, for when a dynamic, progressive, robust, lively, and vivid action sequence unfolds. Note that action is not mere physical movement, rather a comprehensive set of physical movement, plot movement, character movement, and the all important emotional movement, setting movement too (that time and persons, etc., influence a setting's movement; time, for example, rearranges a setting's matter), in sum, event movement.
I'm very good at distinguishing passive and active voice; I have a decade and a half of active writing practice to draw on, there. Static and dynamic voice, on the other hand, are new concepts to me (first heard of them here on Hatrack, in fact). I was homeschooled from the second half of kindergarten through the end of high school, and static voice never came up in my college writing courses--not that I can recall, at least. In all fairness, that *was* a decade ago... I would expect that to be something I'd remember, though. My lack of previous exposure to the concept, combined with the similarity of terms with passive and active voice, has made it difficult for me to discern. I find that irritating because I'm usually quick to pick up new concepts.
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Usually, the particle of a two-word verb follows in close proximity. "Bounce" transitive case is a two-word verb -- transitive means transitional between, say, a predicate's action and the object of the action. Transitive verbs require an object. Some two-word verbs shouldn't be separated from their particles, though bounce is optional. "Once" is an adverb in this case; "off" is an adverb; "of" is a preposition. Which adverb particle, or preposition particle, belongs to bounce and where positioned are discretionary matters in this case.
I feel my example emphasizes the finite time more, if indicated. Grumpy old guy's emphasizes the murder ball movement more, if indicated. Mine is a form of hypotaxis (unequal construct that emphasizes through premodification). Grumpy old guy's is a form of parataxis (parallel construct that emphasizes equal weight to parts).
A De Copia exercise could arrange the sentence a multitude of grammatically complete ways and omit or add or substitute terms, phrases, or clauses, or break out parts into independent clauses or separate sentences without substantively altering meaning.
Boy Hitler bounced a swastika murder ball once. Boy Hitler bounced once a murder ball. Boy Hitler bounced one time a murder ball on Strausser Lane. Teenage Hitler bounced a murder ball one time on Strausser Lane.
Each word could be substituted by another or otherwise omitted or separated into other clauses or sentences for numerous variations.
Another consideration is the rhetorical situation: metaphor, simile, other trope, irony, other rhetorical scheme, for meaning depth, for example. How hard does the ball bounce, maybe?
Boy Hitler bounced once a murder ball as like a rocket shot off Strausser Lane. Simile. Boy Hitler bounced a dodge ball loft off of Strausser Lane once. Substitution.
I could go on at length. Emphasis arrangement I feel is a primary consideration. This type of grammar matter is discretionary, perhaps rhetorical style, and other context would shape an end result.
quote:Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony: I'm very good at distinguishing passive and active voice; I have a decade and a half of active writing practice to draw on, there. Static and dynamic voice, on the other hand, are new concepts to me (first heard of them here on Hatrack, in fact). I was homeschooled from the second half of kindergarten through the end of high school, and static voice never came up in my college writing courses--not that I can recall, at least. In all fairness, that *was* a decade ago... I would expect that to be something I'd remember, though. My lack of previous exposure to the concept, combined with the similarity of terms with passive and active voice, has made it difficult for me to discern. I find that irritating because I'm usually quick to pick up new concepts.
Static and dynamic voice, as I noted above, are not new per se, only newly reorganized concepts and not taught directly in any instructional venue due to their complexity and lack of previous linguistic and grammar theory development. How about that? New language arts and sciences theory in what has been a static field for millennia. You heard it first here. I heard of it first from a few bits and pieces over time from here and there.
The concepts gelled for me in 2013 and since then that I've refined them into a satisfactory concept of which I now have a rudimentary second-nature grasp. This is not as easy as a bowl of cereal for breakfast, rather, eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles.
The effort has been and is worth the midnight candle burnt.
quote:Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury: For my part, I introduced the terms "static" and "dynamic" to distinguish from "passive" and "active" voices.
Too many people were (and still are, actually) confusing "passive" with "static" by calling sentences with "to be" verbs "passive."
I assigned such sentences the term "static" hoping to clarify the difference.
Then, in order to keep from confusing them further, I assigned the term "dynamic" to the opposite of "static" so that it would be distinguished from the opposite of "passive" which is "active."
I hope that makes sense.
Yes, this. This does make sense. For my part, I owe Ms. Dalton Woodbury a great debt of gratitude for her dialectic discussions of these topics that led into exalted realms of appreciation for these voice distinctions. The opus of language theory and terms and their significances, though skimpy, corroborate Ms. Dalton Woodbury's position, too.
A static voice subset of category three above, nonfinite verbs that are other than to be verbs, is sensation verbs: to see, to hear, to touch or physically feel, to smell, to taste, and to emotionally feel; not to mention that they overlap: touch with the eye, hear with the eye, taste with the eye, hear with touch, touch with the ear, and so on.
Use of sensation verbs is flat and static summary and explanation tell, narrator intermediation, and nonfinite time span, unless temporal limitation context, specifically when, is provided. Even simple past tense is vague as to finite time, could be received either as an ongoing action or sensation or once and done of a distinguished time span or both.
Static voice sensation verbs: He _heard_ a ball bounce. She _saw_ a ball bounce. Boy Hitler _felt_ a ball bounce. The dodge ball _smelled_ of scorched latex. He _tasted_ the acrid rubber. She _felt_ a glee for unwitting melee victims' misery. Etc.
More dynamic voice and verb, a distinctive finite time span: The dodge ball thwacked from Engels' face loud as a gunshot.
Note that the subject of the above example is the ball now, not the thrower, nothing but the natural subject and its sensation. "from" is the preposition of the object "Engels' face"; the simile "loud as a gunshot," is the predicate complement of "thwacked."
Static voice though of a suitably finite time span, static due to the unnecessary sensation verb "heard": Boy Hitler threw the dodge ball, _heard_ the ball thwack from Engels' face loud as a gunshot.
Out pesky static sensation verbs except for suitable, timely, judicious transition, summary, and explanation discourses and visits of narrator voice.
This is a very helpful and interesting discussion. Static versus dynamic language is an excellent topic of discussion and something I desperately want to master myself. Not that droning on in lovely description moves a story forward in and of itself, but that the less descriptve and the more dynamic the setting, the more alive and purposeful the fictive dream.
If I may, allow me to add a quote from the opening of For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway that demonstrates how to turn something seemingly static, a mountain nature scene, into something dynamic.
He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.
The character is essentially static, but the scene is full of life and moving. The wind blows tree tops. The road winds and transfers this movement to the stream. And the vp character "sees" something which is so vividly described, the reader sees it, too. So, we get a bonus example of how to use static senses well.
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Yes! Thanks Kathleen. Another of my favorites. Now that you mention it... just randomly perused it... yep, there it is. From Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier:
Late in the night, Inman followed a road of sorts that ran along the banks of the Deep River. It soon dipped into a rocky swale that after a time narrowed and made a gorge. The sky closed up between walls of jumbled rocks and trees until it was only a swath directly above. Milky Way the only light. It was so dark that for a time, down in the cut, he had to feel with his feet for the soft dust of the road to keep his way. (p. 111)
"Milky Way the only light." is key here because the dynamic setting and vp character interact.
Right after the above quote from Hemingway, the vp character responds to the dynamic setting:
"Is that the mill?" he asked.
So, to capture, to create a dynamic of between character and setting is the thing to master, not description.
Perhaps this blind squirrel, though it had been described so many times to him before, has found a nut.
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Both the above excerpts are by different degrees static voice, as noted, from state-of-being stasis statements, though artful, from how time sequentially, if subtly, moves through them -- profluence, therefore, less static than superficially presented.
The Hemingway one is static more than the Frazier one, though no overt shortfall per se. Note that the Hemingway "lay" is a simple past tense verb of the third category kind of stasis statements. No when context in the sentence; the to lie action could have just that moment happened or have been a longer time span, possibly minutes or hours of stasis. The Frazier first sentence verb "followed" is less static from the more finite time of "late at night."
Both examples exemplify artful use of static voice, though, develop setting, character, event, sequencing, complication, conflict, and narrator voice merged somewhat with character voice, through symbolic and emblematic and influential setting description.
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While the excerpts are static, the description is dynamic in that what is described is not just being, but is doing, metaphorically, and that makes the whole thing seem less static.
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The doing of the excerpts is sensory perception experiences, viewpoint persona received sensory reflections transmitted through narrators metaphorically, and metaphorically emotionally loaded context and texture, though without, per se, that other aspect of the static voice third category kind; that is, "he saw" and such summary and explanation sensory verbs. Although -- the Hemingway excerpt does have a few of those verb types: "he could see" and "he saw."
Arguably, Hemingway's cult of manhood required him to keep a firm, real or implied writer and narrator hand on a narrative's tiller. Or, as I interpret Hemingway's narrative aesthetic, as well, a peculiar first-person-like closeness through a third-person narrator transference.
Comparison of the film adaptations of Hemingway's novels with their narratives, especially The Old Man and the Sea Spencer Tracy film, with Santiago as narrator, notes uses of that de se (of the self) technique. Likewise, Frazier's less frequent selectively omnipresent Cold Mountain film narrator.
De se and de dicto (of the word) and de re (of the thing) is another topic range distinguishable from static voice. However, those are a useful technique range for appreciating the metaphorical narrator-viewpoint persona transference of both excerpts and their novels and those writers' works overall.
After skimming this piece twice and checking the Web for similar topics, I knew I had seen static voice in novels many times; but where I wondered? Then my subconscious starting sending a “Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, it was in Virginia Woolf” message and I opened my ebook copy of Jakob's Room. Near the very end found
“Every inch was rained upon. Every blade of grass was bent by rain.”
I hadn't been aware that there was such a thing as static voice until I stumbled upon this post. Knowing what it is has made me aware of the possibilities it opens. My thanks to extrinsic for broadening my horizons.
While that Woolf quote is static, it is also an example of "passive voice" which is a grammatical structure in which the subject of the sentence is the thing that is acted upon by something else (and in which the sentence can be rewritten in active voice with the actor in the sentence being the subject):
"[Rain] rained upon every inch. Rain bent every blade of grass."
"Static" voice is basically nothing more than a sentence that "states" something using a "to be" (as opposed to an action) verb:
"Every inch was wet. Every blade of grass was bent."
And so on: "Her eyes were blue and her hair was brown."
I suspect that "static" voice does not show up in grammar books because I may have been the one who started using it to distinguish such sentences from "passive voice" - I was tired of seeing simple sentences with "to be" verbs being called "passive voice."
Yes, such sentences are "passive" but they do not qualify as the grammatical voice labelled "passive voice."
So "static" as opposed to "dynamic" (which uses action verbs):
"Rain struck every inch, and bent every blade of grass."
And "passive voice" as opposed to "active voice" (which switches the sentence around in order to emphasize what is being acted upon instead of what is acting):
"Every inch was rained upon. Every blade of grass was bent by rain." (back to Woolf)
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Both the Woolf sentences are passive voice, too, which is always static voice. The nethers between active voice and static voice, and dynamic voice, those are sublime. Not to mention, static and passive voices have their artful uses.
Aside from the mechanical uses of passive voice, that is, when a subject doer is unknown or unimportant, are aesthetic uses, for object promotion, for subject demotion, and to keep in touch with a viewpoint agonist. Those are also ripe for misapplication: overuse, under use, clunky clause, sentence, and paragraph syntax.
Woolf's use is sublime, the first word "every" repetition the emphasis design.
You're welcome, Geoffrey Fowler. Spread the voices word so more writers appreciate grammatical voice comes in passive, active, static, and dynamic, and prohibitions against passive and static voices are as useful as other Big Lies, like related Show, don't tell -- show and tell, please -- as those are prone to artful and artless uses.
Wayne Booth and Seymour Chatman, The Rhetoric of Fiction, 1961, 1983 editions, and Story and Discourse, 1978, respectively, are other sources for the state-of-being, or stasis (static voice) statements principle, outside of grammar handbooks' deficiency on the topic. And are identical bases to Ms. Dalton Woodbury's leadership on the voices topic here at Hatrack.