Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why oh Why...

That's the question I ask whenever I learn a new writing rule, and believe me, the woods are fraught with them.  In case you don't know what "fraught" means: Filled with or destined to result in (something undesirable).  In this case, the undesirable is my obsession to notice each and every instance in anything I read, or fear I'll use the wrong word or phrase in my writing.

First, I learned "that" I used too may instances of "that" in my writing.  I've improved and discovered if you read back what you've written and omit "that" and the sentence still makes sense, you probably didn't need to add the word.  Of course, now I notice "that" in every book I read, and realize "that" there are still a lot of authors who haven't been clued in.  "Just" is another offender. It's a great word, but editors hate it.  How many times have I received back a first draft with each instance highlighted.  So, I "just" try to avoid using it now.  *grin*

"To phrases" bug the heck out of me.  Editors constantly pound into our brain the need to keep the story in the present and active.  "To do" something indicates intention, i.e., he reached out "to touch" her hair.  If the story is active and happening in the moment, how about "he touched" her hair.  Unless her head is dangling at his fingertips, the reader figures out the hero has "to reach", and removing that and showing what happens, makes more sense to me.  Of course, I notice that most English authors love "to phrases."  They aren't a personal favorite for me, but if the story is good then I'm able "to overlook" them.  I normally would have said "I overlook" them, but in this case I am showing intent.  *lol* RUE= Resist The Urge to Explain is another good rule.  Don't treat readers like idiots.  They don't need a lot of redundancy in facts to drive home a point. 

The latest and greatest new rule for me makes the most sense of all.  I'm sure people skim past "that" and could give a crap about "to do" phrases, but since having someone point how many times we use "she heard, she felt, she saw, she listened," in each scene, I had no idea how much I'm detracting the reader when I include information not needed.  If I have established the character's POV clearly, then the reader is safe in assuming that "she" is the person involved in all the feelings, seeing, hearing, etc..  I've also been pummeled by my publisher recently for using too many "she" starts to my sentences.  This helps eliminate them.  I offer as example:

Evan brushed his lips across her throat.  She heard herself moan.  She felt her body warm under his ministrations and ached her body forward.  She listened to his heavy breathing and knew he wanted her in the worst way.  ( it's a crummy example, but let me show you a better way.)

Evan brushed his lips across her throat.  A moan escaped her, and her body warmed beneath the fingers creeping along her ribcage.  His heavy breathing and the hardness jabbing into her hip showed his desire.  She arched toward him, wanting him just as much...

Whatta you want from me in two minutes?  *lol*  I think you get my drift.  Next time you read a story, mark how many times the author tells the reader who is thinking, feeling, sighing, moaning...  This is news that needs to spread.  Establish whose POV  the reader is in and let you writing lead the way.  Easy, smeasy, lemon squeezy.  *lol*

I'm sure I'll be back before long with more new "rules."  The longer I write, the more they crop up."

Oh, did I mention "it."  I also try to avoid starting any sentences or using "it" when "it" isn't clear to the reader what "it" is.  Okay, that's confusing.  I can't count how many times I've been reading something...sometimes my own work, and discover a sentence something like:  She wasn't sure she liked it. 

I generally pause and have to go back and re-read to discover what it is she perhaps doesn't like.  A lot of times, I can't figure it out.  So, instead of using "it" as much, I try to find different phrases to clue in the reader.  Example to change:  Tim thrummed his fingers along the back of the couch.  She hated it when he did that.

New example:  Tim thrummed his fingers along the back of the couch.  His nervous habit annoyed her...

This might not have been the best example, but just remember, if you use "it", make sure you've clarified what "it" is.

Ta ta!


Diane Scott Lewis said...

Ginger, I have crit partners who are constantly putting the "thats" back into my sentences.
I guess it is the difference between American English and British English.
Great post!

Tabitha Shay said...

Hey Miz Ging,
As always, you hit the problems right on the head, and taught me some new things. Where would I be without you? I have also had editors put "that" back in my work. I usually "just" take "it" back out because "it" annoys

Daisy Dunn said...

Hi Ginger!!

I have to admit "that" is one of my biggest offenders but so is "Was"...After I did my first edit, with all the "was" words highlighted, I learned using "was" sparingly. Great post!!

Daisy Dunn

Anita Davison said...

I try to observe all the same rules too, Ginger, but as a result my pleasure in reading has been completely spoiled as I am busy picking out the repetitive words, the 'thats', the 'justs' and the 'and thens' and overlook what's going on.

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