My war

Posted: 1st April 2011 by onyxhawke in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

One of the biggest areas of failure for a lot of writers is failure to grow their craft. I don’t make money as a novelist (and don’t think I could) but my writing is still important. Most writers have at least two things they are contantly fighting against to keep their writing at their highest level. For some its things like leaving out words and then mentally filling them in while editing, for others its keeping the tone and the content where they want. Usually the most insidious ones are the hardest to correct. I know any number of well known writers who repeatedly use the same non ritual phrase to describe things, and it bugs me every single time.

My own war on the written word is against the apostrophe. I’m pretty certain it must have either slept with my wife in a past life, or possibly this is just some subconscious response to the thousands of golden age of SF/F character and place names that looked something like Dl’aAA’rg’N’nxx’Qk’z. I’m not sure, It could just be early onset Alzheimer’s in either case, please don’t blame any of my English teachers, they had enough to do getting me to do the rest right. 

So what’s your war on?

P.S. Thanks to exobrains Glynn & Morgen for helping fight the good fight.
P.S.S. I hope you didn’t miss this.

  • That.
    No, really, the word "That."
    Love it way too much. So edit time = search for "that" and see if I really need it in that sentence.

  • Mine is on random important words in sentences. I know what I meant to say, what do you mean it doesn't make sense?
    The same applies to forgetting to necessarily explain everything in story that I, as the writer, already know…

  • My war? Particular words that pop up frequently in what I'm writing. It varies from story to story and there's no predictability to it.
    I used to have a thing about the em-dash. A mentorship with Nalo Hopkinson broke me of that, because she nailed me on it Every. Damn. Time. Thank you, Nalo, that was extremely useful and I edit the damned things out now (except in blog posts). I found that I was using the em-dash as a crutch to insert parenthetical commentary and I didn't need to do that.
    The other thing I battle is too many complex/compound sentences. They're usually correct, because I spent enough years learning how to diagram complex/compound sentences to identify danglers. But they can be confusing to the reader.

  • Anonymous

    I have to resist the urge to add sparkling undead GQ models to every story. I do it subconsciously. After each draft, I have to search for keywords like "studly" and "mouth-watering" and "decomposing" to find those passages.
    Happy April Fools' Day 😉

  • Anonymous

    I have a problem with commas (they breed themselves, I swear it!) and the word "now."

    • I hear that about commas. Because of that I'm Commatose. I found that German as a foreign language will do that to ya. Also Esperanto fences. every. grammatical. part. of a sentence that you write. That's a hard habit.

  • Word repetitions. My brain develops crushes on certain words without my conscious knowledge, and before you know it, I'll have used "ridiculous" or some variant thereof four times on a single page.
    I have my betae trained to watch for things like that, but often I don't actually catch them until I sit down and read the damned thing out loud by way of a final draft. Never fails to be annoying in the extreme, that.

  • I drop words, and parts of words. I'm especially bad at " n't " getting dropped. Losing the negative can really mess with a reader's mind. And too much online reading has leaked in, I tend to Capitalize Words in the middle of sentences.

  • Anonymous

    Double letters
    It can generally be agreed that I only switched to English because carrying out a war against seven languages at once was getting tiring. Now I do war on the English language alone and my particular battles are double letters (I double where not needed and single where needed.) Also, I'm capable of untold cruelty towards the common comma.
    But that's merely what I annoy my copyeditors with. My real battle is keeping my background clear enough for the readers to get what's going on and bringing in back story and character development without slowing the action. And for relaxation, I juggle chainsaws.

  • Comma whoring. Word repetition. Storytelling itself.
    … I've got 70K words, of which about 50-60K are possibly publishable (and that 10-20K is publishable in *ahem* a very niche market*). But it's almost all dialogue. At some point, I"m going to have to buckle down and learn to write *prose*.
    There's a reason my working title is "in search of a plot". 🙁
    Also, I hate short sentences with a passion, so I never write them if I can help it.

  • People who think there's a novel somewhere in me when I'm reasonably sure there isn't? Or if there is, it's somewhere in my large intestine…
    I hate sentences that start with "But" or "For." In penance for my sins, I have a tendency to start sentences with "So." Displacement, me? You betcha.
    And you're welcome, and it's good to be allies.

  • 1. The ramble. My sentences are almost always grammatically correct, even in first draft, but they can go on and on and on. Sometimes I'll use that intentionally, in dialogue, to show someone is agitated. But in a very active scene, it may have the opposite of the intended effect.
    2. Changes in tense. My first drafts often go back and forth between past and present tense, and making it consistent almost always changes the character of portions of the story.

    • That last one is something I can never tell if its an editing error when someone forgot to change things while rewriting, or a lack of knowledge of tenses. They aren't quite the same problem to fix.

      • In the anthology I'm finishing up for Drollerie Press, there's a story in which the author makes excellent use of a change in tense–most of the story is in past tense, but it ends in present tense. The problem was, for the final scene, she shifted back and forth before finally settling on one. My coeditor and I went back and forth on where to put the change in tense, or whether to leave it to the author, until I noticed one line that was perfect as written but didn't work at all when the tense was changed.
        Of course, when most people tell a story in person, they shift back and forth between past and present tense ("So he stopped me on the street, and I'm like, 'Are you talking to me?'"). I keep thinking one of these days I should write a first-person narrative that imitates that aspect of everyday speech so well that readers won't notice. But the problem, of course, is that editors will notice, and most will read it as a mistake.

  • My nemesis is scaffolding. The bits I need to write in order to work out what the story _is_ – what happens, how the characters interrelate, what it is that matters about a scene. Once I've got that, I need to go back and flesh it out, make it more immediate. Sometimes the scaffolding is interesting and well-written enough that I don't recognise it for what it is.