Welcome to Ravenna’s Monday Mumblings!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
I’m starting off this brand new year with craft posts based on the things I’ve learned about my own writing over all that soul-searching I did during the past few months.
Number one on the list … beginning too many sentences and paragraphs with pronouns or names. Also included in this is varying the sentence length so the story doesn’t read like a chopped up Dr. Seuss book, or a book written for six-year-olds.
I’m using real life examples to illustrate. This is a passage from one of my books, BEFORE it was pointed out to me that I routinely did this. Now mind you, there was a time in my writing where I worked hard NOT to do this, but as I grew more determined to bang out those books, my writing got sloppy. I’m happy to say I’m back to working hard NOT to do this.
Lynda sighed as the expression on Merrick’s face changed from lustful to doubtful. He thought she was going to bolt. She could read it in his eyes. No. She wouldn’t do that. This was truly the last resort for the company that had been in her family for three generations. She couldn’t let it go under. Family was family, after all, even if they were fucked up, and even if she was fucked up to give a shit about them. And she could do far worse for a husband than Merrick Dalton.
He leaned close, brushed his lips against her veil, and whispered in her ear, “Lynda, everyone is waiting.”
She gave him a quick smile to hide the tremor that coursed through her body at the intimacy of that whisper. As she did, she caught the doubt and resignation in his eyes. He didn’t want this marriage anymore than she did. He only wanted Shelton Energy. Her father had also made that clear enough, and she had no reason to believe it wasn’t true.
Lynda climbed the last few steps and prepared to go through with the biggest sham of her life.
Do you spot the pattern? Well, don’t feel bad if you don’t. Neither did I, I’m sorry to say. And this went on for A LOT OF books.
Let’s count the number of paragraphs I began with a name or a pronoun: 4 out of 4. Yeah.
Now count the number of sentences I began with a name or a pronoun: 11 out of 15. YIKES.
Here’s the next offering where I worked my little fingers off to break that nasty habit…
Carolyn Lucchesi had certainly been inside a police station before. In fact, as she glanced around the 18th District in Chicago, she was fairly certain she’d been inside this particular station, at least once. They all looked alike after a while. They smelled the same, too. Dirty and funky, like a locker room, only a locker room had never made her break out in a cold sweat from claustrophobia.
The detective typing away at his keyboard looked like every other detective she’d met. Overworked, needing sleep, and wishing they were anywhere but sitting at a desk, filling out paperwork. But she’d rather be sitting next to him at a desk than in one of the holding cells. Carolyn took a few deep breaths to calm down.
Two uniformed cops had picked her up on Michigan Avenue, claiming she fit the description of someone seen taking a Prada bag from Neiman Marcus on Northbrook Court. Once they realized she had a record and was on parole, she knew she’d be here for a while, even though they hadn’t found a Prada bag, or so much as a Prada charm, on her person.
She had done the crimes and had paid her time, but that record would follow her around for the rest of her life. Now, she was here for background information, or so she’d been told. That was their way of saying they felt like harassing her because of her family and personal criminal history.
But this time, they had nothing on which to hold her, and Carolyn knew that. She’d be released eventually. All she had to do was stay cool, although it wasn’t easy to do. She still had nightmares about being trapped in dark, dank places, even though she’d been out for six months. Her last stint had been the longest one of her life, and it had changed her.
“I need to pee.” Anything to get up from this desk and walk around for a moment or two.
The detective barely glanced up. “Hey, Rosie. Come over here and take this perp to the can for me, will ya?”
And they say chivalry is dead.
See the difference? So did the acquiring editor, who sent me a wonderful PM on Facebook, telling me what an excellent piece of writing this story was. Made my entire year.
Number of paragraphs I began with a name or a pronoun: 2 out of 8. HUGE difference.
Number of sentences I began with a name or a pronoun: 6 out of 24. MUCH better.
Does it take more time to write this way? You betcha. Did doing so earn me mega bucks in sales over the prior books. Nope. Not at all. But that’s not really the point, is it?
I’m no longer banging them out. I’m taking my time, and if that is old school, or if people don’t give a shit whether you write this way or not, so be it. It’s STILL what you should strive for, because it’s better writing than the lazy way of he said … she did.
When you read the second example out loud, it sounds a lot less choppy and sing-song/juvenile than the first. It’s also a lot more colorful and gives better insight into the characters, without falling into the dreaded TELL.
SHOW versus TELL is another blog post, but it’s worth pointing out here because the two often go hand in hand. When you rely on beginning most of your paragraphs or sentences with a name or pronoun, you end up falling into the pattern of telling versus showing because it’s easier to write that way, and it’s a hell of a lot faster.
So, the choice is yours, but varying your sentence length and beginning both paragraphs and sentences with words other than names or pronouns will force you to write more show than tell.
One last thing. I used examples of my own work because I’m not here to judge others, only to impart information about the craft.
Until next week… Happy Writing!!