Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Writing for Style: Writerisms 3

More Writerisms to Avoid
Copyright © 1995 by C.J. Cherryh

9. Themely English

With apologies to hard-working English teachers, school English is not fiction English. Understand that the meticulous English style you labored over in school, including the use of complete sentences and the structure of classic theme-sentence paragraphs, was directed toward the production of non-fiction reports, resumes, and other non-fiction applications.

What is the first thing you have to do to write fiction? Suspect all the English style guidelines you learned in school and violate the rules as needed. Some rules will turn out to apply; some won't. Be ready to defend your choices. If you are lucky, you will be copyedited. Occasionally the copyeditor will be technically right but fictionally wrong, and you will have to tell your editor why you want that particular expression left alone.

10. Scaffolding and spaghetti.

These are words whose sole function is to hold up other words; useful only if you are floundering in too many "which" clauses as below.

What it was upon close examination was a mass the center of which was suffused with a glow which appeared rubescent to the observers who were amazed and confounded by this untoward manifestation.

Flowery and overstructured.

What they found was a mass, the center of which glowed faintly red. They'd never seen anything like it.

This isn't great lit, but it gets the job done: the first drowns in "which" and "who" clauses. In other words---be suspicious any time you have to support one needed word (rubescent) with a creaking framework of "which" and "what" and "who." Dump the "which-what-who" and take the single descriptive word. Plant it as an adjective in the main sentence.

11. A short cut to "who" and "whom."
  • Nominative: who
  • Possessive: whose
  • Objective: whom

The rule: treat the "who-clause" as a mini-sentence. If you could substitute "he" for the who-whom, it's a "who." If you could substitute "him" for the who-whom it's a "whom." ·

Who do I see? is as wrong as I see he.
Whom do I see? is correct as is I see him.

12. -ness

A substitute for thinking of the right word. "Darkness," "unhappiness," and such come of tacking -ness (or occasionally - ion) onto words. There's often a better answer. Use it as needed. As a general rule, use a major or stand-out vocabulary word only once a paragraph, maybe twice a page and, if truly outre, only once per book. Don't vary your word choice to the point of silliness; see error 3 in the first post of Writerisms.

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