Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tuesday's Tidbits

Still more to add to your list of things to avoid as an author. For you readers out there...how many of these "faux pas" do you notice in the books you buy?

A fellow author and friend from my historical critique group, Jen Black, posted a very informative blog, making reference to another site where she found the original post. If you'd like to read the entire post, then visit Pat Holt's blog. I'm so glad Jen shared this.

In the interim, I'm going to borrow her "headers" and see how many I can apply to myself. I invite you to do the same is you're an author:

1. Repeats:
We all have favorite phrases we use in our writing, the secret is to avoid over-using them. Word echoes, especially when you use the same word within one paragraph warn of redundancy and are best avoided. Here's a silly example: John placed his glass on the table and gazed at Vanessa. Tipping her glass, Vanessa smiled over the rim and sipped her drink. When finished, she lifted her glass in a toast. John hoisted his glass into the air. Are we sick of 'glass?' I think this is one habit I've learned, but still slip into occasionally. Luckily, I have my critique group to help. Ask them and they'll tell you that I drive them crazy in my critiques of their work with highlighting echoes.

2. Flat Writing:
I'm not so sure I've fallen into this habit, but Ms. Holt warns "it's a sign you've lost interest." I've seen this in books I've read, and often wonder the purpose of phrases that do nothing to propel the story and really add nothing to the plot. I suspect they may not really indicate a lost interest, rather are the author's attempt to reach a mandated word count. *smile*

3. Empty Adverbs:
Boy, I'm trying to break this habit, and it isn't easy. Examples: actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, literally, really..) The list goes on and on, and for story telling, they seem appropriate, but replacing 'ly' words with stronger verbs is the answer in fiction writing. Of course, 'ly' words have a place. If you eliminate all, your writing will become too stiff. There's a secret here and I'm trying to uncover it. I think I've made progress.

4. Phony Dialogue:
What I gleaned from Ms. Holt is the need to make your characters unique. We all have distinct voices and habits, so try to convey those to the reader rather than have everyone sound alike. Speak with a unique voice for each character by not using the same phrasing, and make the dialogue realistic. Stop and think....would my character really say that?

5. Suffixes:
As with 'ly' and 'ing' words, some 'ness' words sprinkled into the story have a place, but adding so many that a reader has to stop and absorb them or re-read is not a good sign. Examples: mindlessness, courageousness. Another habit we slip into is often adding 'ly' to 'ing' words in our descriptive tags...often described as "Tom Swiftees.: Poor example, but the best I can come up with: "That was a refreshing dip," the boy said, swimingly. If I do this, I'm certainly not aware of it.

6. To Be Words:
This has been a toughie for me. 'To be' words slow the pace of your writing and often move it to passive rather than unveiling the story in the present. 'Am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been...' are common examples, but of course cannot all be eliminated. The secret is finding a happy medium.

7. Lists:
I don't believe I fall into his habit anymore, but I sure have read the work of several authors, especially newbies who have. An example would be trying to 'list' everything on a buffet table. Before you name everything, the reader is yawning and may have tossed the book aside. "Cecile's stomach rumbled as she gazed at the eggs, potatoes, hot rolls, oatmeal, toast, jelly, butter, bananas, apples, pears,plums, and pots of hot coffee and tea on the table." Listing a little to give the reader is a much better idea...maybe her mouth watered at the hot baked bread, and then let the reader smell it by describing the smell of yeast.

8. Show Don't Tell:
Oh, Lord, have I come a long way on this one. I actually 'get' the concept. When I completed and submitted my first manuscript, my editor said, "You've written a beautiful story. Now we have to make it into a novel." I wondered at her meaning, but until you weave in the smells, emotions, actions by drawing the reader in and allowing them the experience, you really have only TOLD a story. The secret is SHOWING so when your heroine cries, so does the reader. Let the wind caress the reader's face, let them smell the flowers, feel the slap. If you aren't there yet, believe me, some editor will help you along. *big grin*

9. Awkward Phrasing:
I think the best rule of thumb is KISS (keep it simple, stupid.) If you are writing a sentence so long and so strangely worded that it requires more than one reading, you've failed this test. I believe I used to do this, but now I've learned from many editorial whippings to shorten sentences for emphasis and ease of comprehension. No reader likes to get to the end of a long drawn out sentence and scratch their head. Unless of course they have dandruff. *lol*

10. Commas:
Speaking of scratching one's head... this one has me stumped. Just when I think I understand and follow the written rules of good punctuation, a publishing house decides to try to eliminate commas. I guess you have to follow your publishing guidelines, but my belief is: If you have two sentences joined together with 'and or but' you need a comma, and if there is a natural pause, a comma is called for. Commas also clarify things for the reader when one word follows another and doesn't make sense if read together without a pause. My mind is too numb from all these rules to give you an example, but I think you understand.

So...I encourage you to go back to the link and read Ms. Holt's full post, and Jen's too. The examples are all helpful and encourage continued learning. I know I benefited from reading them and I'm happy to pass along the wisdom.

1 comment:

Anita Davison said...

I've copied this and put it somehwere I can reach it easily too as I found it succinct and easy to follow - not to mention covering all the essential points.
By the way, it's Friday and nothing new here, but the 'Other Self' is bursting with stuff - are you ditching the writing and running for Congress?

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