Just last week, esteemed writing coach Leslie Guccione called me on a grammar thing. OK, not really incorrect grammar, but a stylistic error. She pointed out something that marked me as unsophisticated, in a writerly way. Me? No!
She didn't really say it that way, but I'd asked for her help and Leslie is nothing if not honest in her critiques. She was part of my original writing group, along with a small group of other fabulous writers. Recently, a few of us reconvened online and I'd submitted an essay for their consideration. In other words, I should have known better. I asked for it.
I'd committed a mistake the writers of SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS: How to Edit Yourself Into Print address in Chapter 11 of the second edition of this book--Mistakes they claim show a lack of "Sophistication." And by the way, it's not just a book for fiction writers.
Here's what Leslie pointed out to me, chapter and verse:
"One easy way to make your writing seem more sophisticated is to avoid two stylistic constructions that are common to hack writers," namely:
Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.
As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.
Nothing my fabulous high school English teachers would object to enough to bring out the red pencil. BUT both examples take a bit of the action and tuck it away into a dependent clause. According to Self-Editing, this makes some of the action seem unimportant.
You also need to beware the -ing and the as thing if it gives "rise to physical impossibilities."
While an occasional use won't wreck your writing, in a 700-word essay (such as what I asked Leslie to critique for me so of course it glared at her when I did that -ing thing...), too many of these constructions will soon jump right off your page. And not in a good way.
An oldie but a goodie, this book. Better yet, call it a classic. My copy was dusty and buried on the shelf, only occasionally opened since I first embarked on this writing thing ten years ago. I knew how to write back then, but Leslie and the rest of the critique group pushed me to improve. Books like SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS showed me the way. Great book. I'll remember some of the fiction tips as I slog my way through early drafts of my new project.
(Note to self: when introducing new characters, include physical descriptions with concrete, idiomatic details. Chapter 2: Characterization and Exposition.)
Now back to work.
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