Friday, January 27, 2006

Miscellaneous Writing Tips

There is a line from the musical Sunset Boulevard that goes something like, "It's so good to see how bad bad writing can be." (Forgive the paraphasing.)

I have been reading writing technique books and collected some purple prose that I'd like to share. I'm finding bits of bad writing not only in others work, but also my own. As a result I'm changing it while I write, and not during the re-write.

1. Passive voice. When I was in college I had a reputation for proof-reading papers. My favorite thing to do was circle the verbs "is, are, was, were, has, have or had" in a thick red ink. Then I'd arrow to the infinitive that was hidding the verb. I recall being quite vicious to some of my regulars. After a recent conference, I recalled this activity of mine when a woman there suggested doing just that. Now I find that when I am writing the words for the very first time and I start to pen one of the forbidden ones, I think about what infinitive I was going to use and edit my thoughts into the active tense.

2. Adverb overload. The -ly words I tend to leave in, but return to them later and work them into proper phrases or eliminate them entirely. (Sounds quite gruesome, eh?) They are trickier than the Passive Verbs and require more thought to remove completely. (See? They just creep in there.)

3. Exclamation points. I recently bought a book whose author loves this punctuation mark. If your words don't excite me, neither will a change of punctuation. This is one that I can savely say I never use.

4. Gerund clause. I'm terribly guiltly of this. I freely admit that it is a guiltly pleasuring and an ineffective way of describing something. This example is the edit I most often recognize in my own writing. Others may disagree with me.

While this list is not by any means conclusive, it is a start. I figure, if I recognize this mistakes, fix them as I go, I'll improve the quality of my writing just in time to recognize other mistakes I'm making.

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