Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Writing for Style: Writerisms 2

Copyright © 1995 by C.J. Cherryh

Writing Styles to Avoid

6) Descriptive writerisms. Things that have become "conventions of prose" that personally stop me cold in text.
  • "framed by" followed by hair, tresses, curls, or most anything cute.
  • "swelling bosom"
  • "heart-shaped face"
  • "set off by": see "framed by"
  • "revealed" or "revealed by": see "framed by." Too precious for words when followed by a fashion statement.
  • Mirrors … avoid mirrors, as a basic rule of your life. You get to use them once during your writing career. Save them for more experience. But it doesn't count if they don't reflect … by which I mean see the list above. If you haven't read enough unpublished fiction to have met the infamous mirror scenes in which Our Hero admires his steely blue eyes and manly chin, you can scarcely imagine how bad they can get.
  • limpid pools and farm ponds: I don't care what it is, if it reflects your hero and occasions a description of his manly dimple, it's a mirror.
As a general rule … your viewpoint characters should have less, rather than more, description than anyone else: a reader of different skin or hair color ought to be able to sink into this persona without being continually jolted by contrary information.

Stick to what your observer can observe. One's own blushes can be felt, but not seen, unless one is facing …a mirror. See above.
  • "as he turned, then stepped aside from the descending blow … " First of all, it takes longer to read than to happen: pacing fault. Second, the "then" places action #2 sequentially after #1, which makes the whole evasion sequence a 1-2 which won't work. This guy is dead or the opponent was telegraphing his moves in a panel-by-panel comic book style which won't do for regular prose. Clunky. Slow. Fatally slow.
  • "Again" or worse "once again." Established writers don't tend to overuse this one: it seems like a neo fault, possibly a mental writerly stammer---lacking a next thing to do, our hero does it "again" or "once again" or "even yet." Toss "still" and "yet" onto the pile and use them sparingly.
7) Dead verbs. Colorless verbs.
  • walked
  • turned
  • crossed
  • run, ran
  • go, went, gone
  • leave, left
  • have, had
  • get, got
You can add your own often used colorless verbs: these are verbs that convey an action but don't add any other information. A verb you've had to modify (change) with an adverb is likely inadequate to the job you assigned it to do.

8) Colorless verb with inadequate adverb: "He walked slowly across the room." More informative verb with no adverb:
  • "He trudged across the room"
  • "He paced across the room"
  • "He stalked across the room"
Each one a different meaning, different situation. But please see problem 3 in the previous post and don't go overboard.

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