Saturday, December 10, 2011

Beware these writing maladies!

And more great advice from Nathan Bransford's blog:

Do You Suffer From One of These Writing Maladies?

[commercial voice] There are pernicious writerly germs out there infecting pages all around the world. Left uncured they can be fatal. Talk to your book doctor or literary health provider if you notice any of these symptoms:

Yoda Effect: Difficult to read, sentences are, when reversing sentences an author is. Cart before horse, I'm putting, and confused, readers will be.

Overstuffed Sentences: An overstuffed sentence happens when a writer tries to pack too many things into one sentence in convoluted fashion, making it difficult for the intent of the sentence to come through and to follow it becomes an exercise in re-reading the sentence while making the sentence clearer in our brains so we can understand the overstuffed sentence, which is the point of reading.

Imprecision: When writers just miss the target ground with their word using they on occasion elicit a type of sentence experiential feeling that creates a backtracking necessity.

Chatty Cathy: So, like, I don't know if you've noticed but OMG teenagers use so much freaking slang!!! And multiple exclamation points!!! In a novel not a blog post!!! And so I'm all putting tons of freaking repetitious verbal tics into totes every sentence and it's majorly exhausting the reader because WAIT I NEED TO USE ALL CAPS.

Repetition: Sometimes when authors get lyrical, lyrical in a mystical, wondrous sense, they use repetition, repetition that used sparingly can be effective, effective in a way that makes us pause and focus, focus on the thing they're repeating, but when used too many times, so many times again and again, it can drive us insane, insane in a way that will land the reader in the loony bin, the loony bin for aggrieved readers.

Shorter Hemingway: Clipped sentences. Muscular. Am dropping articles. The death. It spreads. No sentence more than six words. Dear god the monotony. The monotony like death.

Non Sequiturs: Sometimes when authors are in a paragraph one thing won't flow to the next. They'll describe one thing, wow can you believe that thing that happened three days ago?, and keep describing the first thing.

Description Overload: Upon this page there is a period. It is not just any period, it is a period following a sentence. It follows this sentence in a way befitting a period of its kind, possessing a roundness that is pleasing to the eye and hearty to the soul. This period has the bearing of a regal tennis ball combined with the utility of a used spoon. It is an unpretentious period, just like any other, the result of hundreds of years of typesetting innovations that allows it to be used, almost forgotten, like oxygen to the sentence only darker, more visible. And it is after this period, which will neither reappear nor matter in any sense whatsoever to the rest of the novel, that our story begins.

Stilted dialogue:
Character #1: "I am saying precisely what I mean!"
Character #2: "Wait. What is that you are trying to tell me?"
Character #1: "Are you frickin' listening to me? I am telling you precisely what I am feeling in this given moment. And I'm showing you I'm really angry by using pointed rhetorical questions and petulant exhortations. God."
Character #2: "Sheesh! Well, I'm responding with leading questions that allow you to tell me exactly what you mean while adding little of value to the conversation on my own. Am I not?"
Character #1:"You are totally doing that. You totally frickin' are. Ugh! I'm so mad right now!"

The Old Spice Guy Effect (excessive rug-pulling). The character was standing on a rug. He falls through his floor to his death! The rug was actually a trap door. But wait, the character was already dead. He merely faked falling through the trap door. But wait, the trap door was actually a portal into another world. The character was actually alive, he just thought he was dead. Now he's really dead. Or is he? I'm in a chair.

Have you spotted any other writerly viruses out there in the wild?
The fall season of writing viruses is here. Watch out for these dangerous diseases!

Part 2

Catching the Rye:
Well you probably first want to have read this book by J.D. Salinger with an immediately catchy voice that kind of spoke to a generation or some nonsense, and after you do that you may be corrupted with that voice in your head for some time if you want to know the truth of the matter. If you really want to think about it it’s already been done and anyway the guy who wrote it didn’t end up wanting to talk to anyone anymore and holed up in a house somewhere so that can’t have been good and you probably want to try and go and write your own voice so you’re not a phony.

Adverb Central:
“What do you mean I can’t use adverbs with dialogue tags?” Lucia asked questioningly.
“Just don’t do it,” Nathan replied testily.
“But why not?” Lucia asked quizzically.
“It’s kind of a rule,” Nathan said resignedly.
“I kind of like them,” Lucia said poutingly.
“If you keep using adverbs,” Nathan said patiently, “Pretty soon your reader will only notice the adverbs and not the dialogue because the adverbs are doing all the work for the reader.”
“Oh,” Lucia said understandingly.
“Yeah,” Nathan nodded knowingly.

Gee Whiz That’s a Lot of Exposition:
“But what is it?” Captain Spaceman asked.
“I’m glad you asked,” his crack scientist said. “It’s a ‘What’s It.’ It is a device that requires me to explain to you precisely how the technology in this world works so the writer can get some exposition out of the way.”
“But why wouldn’t I already know how the technology works?” Captain Spaceman asked. “I am the captain, aren’t I?”
“That’s the beauty of it,” the scientist said. “You will impatiently prod me along while I tell the reader exactly what they need to know even though there is no good reason for us to be having this conversation. You might even say ‘Yes yes, go on.’”
“Yes yes, go on,” Captain Spaceman said.
“And I’ll be sure to include some foreshadowing. I mean, sir, just think of what would happen if the ‘What’s It’ fell into the wrong hands... You might even be moved to weigh in on the gravity of the situation.”
Captain Spaceman scratched his chin. “My gods, that would be catastrophic.”

Olympic Head Jumping:
Jackie saw the problem approach from a mile away. She turned to Richard, who was wondering about the weather that day and thought nothing of Susan, who was sitting quietly and wasn’t expecting the problem at all. Jackie wondered at that moment how everything had gone wrong, while Richard’s eyes widened as he saw another person approaching, Derrick, who gave a wave as he approached, happy to see his friends. Susan began to notice something was amiss and gave a start, which Richard noticed and looked in Derrick’s direction while Jackie had already been onto the problem from the start, ignoring the quizzical expression on Derrick’s face as he tried to understand. No one had any idea what was really happening.

Fantasy Overload:
“We are hearty warriors! Let us share a hearty chuckle! Ha ha ha!” Pentrarch said.
There was a glint in Lentwendon’s eye as he took a swill from a mighty cistern of ale. He bellowed a deep laugh and clapped his friend on the back.
“I say,” Pentrarch said, “What is it about fantasy novels that lends itself to such stilted, manly camaraderie? Do we not have normal interactions?”
“We do not,” Lentwendon said, his voice suddenly grave. “We do not. We prefer to express our friendship with great noise and clapping of shoulders and brood quietly but stoically when matters turn serious. It is the same with our women.”
“Oh yes,” Pentrarch said “Our women are quietly supportive that we must do battle in far off lands, and they always have weary, knowing eyes. In truth they are the strong ones.”
Lentwendon nodded as he stared quietly at his cistern. “And ale, always ale.”

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