This post is for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group (click the link for details on what that means and how to join. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up to the challenge that are worth checking out. The first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.
This month’s question — What would make you quit writing?
This is a good question. It could be lack of time or my brain ran out of stories but a bigger reason would be my own writing bores me. Here are suggestions for making sure your own writing doesn’t bore you or readers.
BTW, if this sounds familiar, I posted it during the launch of Against All Odds August 2020. I’ve made a few changes which you might notice:
When my novel becomes boring, here are five constructs that are often the culprit. I keep each discussion short. If you would like to dig deeper, there are many great writing websites and books that make that possible:
Passive voice moves readers out of the action and puts them in a safe place to the side of the action. They become unaffected by the action and the plot, more of an observer. That’s deadly for a story. We want readers sitting in the middle of events, worried everything will blow up around them. Plus, passive voice often weakens the clarity of what’s being written.
Solution: Rephrase the sentence so that the action noun becomes part of the subject. For example:
Wrong: The grass has been scorched by the wild fire.
Right: The wild fire scorched the grass.
Too many prepositional phrases
What happens when you have too many? 1) the reader loses track of what you’re trying to say, or 2) the sentence becomes unnecessarily convoluted. Look at these examples from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Writing Center:
Unnecessary phrase: The opinion of the manager
Correction: The manager’s opinion
Unnecessary phrase: The obvious effect of such a range of reference is to assure the audience of the author’s range of learning and intellect.
Correction: The wide-ranging references in this talk assure the audience that the author is intelligent and well-read.
Chicago Manual of Style recommends the use of only one preposition per ten-fifteen words.
Solution: 1) Delete the prepositional phrase. Does the story lose anything? 2) Break the sentence into multiple sentences. 3) Use active voice instead of passive.
Qualifying words include a bit, little, fairly, highly, kind of, mostly, rather, really, slightly, sort of, appeared to, and seemed to. They don’t draw a line that when crossed, creates drama. They equivocate which weakens your story and your message.
Solution: Replace these words with decisive ones. Take a stand.
The past perfect tense is a menace to the creation of drama. It removes the stress of the action because we know it’s over and s/he is safe. That’s not how to build drama.
Solution: Let readers feel the drama and then the solution.
Participles and Gerunds
According to Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, “a gerund is a verb that ends with -ing (such as dancing, flying, etc.) and functions as a noun.” … A participle also ends in -ing but forms the progressive tense of a verb. When you have too many of either in one sentence, readers lose track of the action and the meaning. As a writer, I know they sap the energy from my writing but I couldn’t find a grammar rule to explain why. Susan B. Weiner did offer this:
“Shorter sentences are easier for readers to absorb.”
That’s part of it. Gerunds also make sentences less direct so harder to comprehend. Geist explains:
“They will not take you to the simplest, strongest, most beautiful prose. …[They] make the sentence less direct and harder to comprehend than it can be…”
Solution: Figure out what you’re trying to say and then say it directly.
I had a colleague in my critique group tell me not unkindly that she had become used to my long sentences. What she could have added but didn’t was that at times, they made it difficult to remember how the action started. Here’s an example:
The many independent clauses makes it easy for readers to get lost and miss what is being said.
Solution: Break the sentence into manageable pieces that stand on their own.
If you’d like to find a great group of authors–Indie and traditional–come join my Book Blast for Laws of Nature on July 15th (the link isn’t active until then). I have a wide variety of great writers helping me out. You’ll love their blogs and books!
#amwriting #IndieAuthor #iwsg #amwriting @TheIWSG
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.