Monday, June 1, 2009

Writer's Checklist

I've been looking back at the last couple of posts and see things drifting away from writing: talk of satanists, dissecting creatures, urban legends. Guess that I should take a few minutes to stray back on topic. I was looking through the class notes from my first session with Ed Kavanagh. There were some good bits to pass along. Truth be told, I believe these are mainly from "The Art of Fiction", by John Gardner and "The Art and Craft of Novel Writing," by Oakley Hall.

  • Writing should engage the senses. Be concrete rather than abstract, particular rather than general.
  • Write with nouns and vigorous Anglo-Saxon derived verbs rather than with adjectives and adverbs.
  • Disperse with the "little qualifiers". a little, a bit, rather, sort of, kind of, quite, very, pretty (as in much), slightly, mostly, etc.
  • Beware of the word "there". It is a deadener of prose.
  • Except in special circumstances choose the active over the passive voice.
  • Put statements in positive form.
  • Omit needless words.
  • Beware of the extended use of the habitual case: would. Ex. In the morning he would leap out of bed early, he would don his boots and slosh down a cup of coffee. Usually he would fight with his wife, then he would go outside with his shotgun.
  • Strive to make the mechanics of writing invisible.
  • Beware of shifts in diction level.
  • Strive for sentence variety and focus.
  • Beware of faulty rhythm.
  • Beware of accidental rhyme.
  • Beware of comma-spliced "run-on" sentences. Split long sentences in two or make appropriate use of the semicolon.
  • Never explain needlessly.
  • Beware of the inappropriate use of introductory phrases containing infinite (ing) verbs: "Looking up slowly from her sewing, Martha said..."
  • Avoid cliches.

OK. Enough of that. Public service announcement for today has concluded.

2 comments:

Anton Gully said...

"Beware of the extended use of the habitual case: would. Ex. In the morning he would leap out of bed early, he would don his boots and slosh down a cup of coffee. Usually he would fight with his wife, then he would go outside with his shotgun into the wood.


Fixed that. Honestly, to me that paragraph establishes a rhythm. I'd expect the pay off to be a "would not". Strunk talks about using repetition to enhance your point.

Maryann Miller, over at The Blood Red Pencil, was giving some "line editing" tips back in April and one of the things she mentioned was getting rid of -ly words. So instead of "He walked across the floor softly", you would write, "He walked across the floor, feet padding silently like a jungle cat" or something similar. But then there the "omit needless words" rule which I think trumps all and I would much rather read about someone walking softly. Obviously there's a place for descriptive writing but if you replace every simple adverb with a descriptive phrase, it's going to undermine the use of description to set the scene. All in my opinion, of course. I'm just absorbing so much writing advice at the minute, that my brain is flagging the inconsistencies. If in doubt, leave it out. Dammit, an unintended rhyme!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Don't go into sensory overload, Anton. I think you need to put some of the absorbed information to work in a first draft of something (even if it's just a short story) and see what works best for you.