One of the many mistakes writers make is wrong word usage. Spell check misses it, because there is nothing wrong with the spelling. Sometimes it gets by the writer, because our minds have a tendency to trick us into thinking it’s the correct word.
Since I started writing, I’ve taught myself the do’s and don’ts of writing by reading and adhering to other authors’ advice. Reading traditional and self-published books helps me understand what works and doesn’t work. Thirteen years after writing my first unpublished novel, and reading numerous books, I’m beginning to realize that some of the do’s, don’ts, and advice have lost or are losing the argument.
Show vs. Tell
At some point, most writers have heard the words show, don’t tell. In the beginning, I told my stories and added dialogue to give the reader a sense of the characters. Now granted, endless arguments have popped up regarding show vs. tell, but what I enjoy reading is a book that has balance. I’ve learned how to balance between show vs. tell. I haven’t mastered it yet, but it’s much better from my early works. The other side of this argument is, since the beginning of time people told stories, so there’s nothing wrong with telling a story. I wonder though, has society become impatient with description? Show normally exceeds 140 characters. 😀
As a reader, I get upset when I read a book I spent money on, and it turns out to be mostly tell. Maybe writing has heightened my expectations as a reader. Nonetheless, show and tell are what I want in a book. Many of the recent books I’ve read lack show. At the beginning of the novel, Slammed by Colleen Hoover, it starts off mixing show and tell, but as the story progresses, I felt the author just told me what was going on. I lost interest in the characters. Without show, I believe you lose the dimension of the characters and visual setting.
Ending Sentences with a Preposition
Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Who hasn’t heard that from a teacher or some adult? After years of hearing this rule, it is said to be a grammar myth. It’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition when you can leave the preposition off and it still means the same thing. “Where are you at?” is wrong because you can write it without the “at” and it means the same thing. “Where are you?” It reminds me of a joke I heard years ago.
An Illinois woman was sitting next to a New York woman on a plane.
The IL woman turned to the NY woman and asked, “Where are you from?”
The NY woman said, “A place where we know better than to end our sentences with a preposition?”
The IL woman sat for a bit before asking, “Where are you from, bitch?”
Many people love and respect Stephen King. How can you not? He takes an interest in writers, which is a rare quality for a famous author. I have to admit though that I don’t always agree with his writing tips. Yes, I know, I’m not a famous writer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to my opinion. One of these disagreements comes from his suggestion to avoid adverbs. As he put it, “the adverb is not your friend.” When writing my published books, I did take heed of this warning, and stayed away from adverbs. Every time an adverb popped into my head, I described the scene or person instead.
As I write my current manuscript, I decided to sparingly use some adverbs (split infinitive with an adverb). Recently, I haven’t read a traditional or a self-published book that didn’t have adverbs in it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Mr. King is suggesting we wipe out an entire form of speech. I can’t do that. Of course, I’m not about to plop down an adverb because I’m too lazy to describe the character or scene, but I’m also not going to stop using them. Several books I read made me want to pull my hair out since that’s all they used. To some writers, an adverb is a great substitute for description. As a reader, I get irritated by excessive use of adverbs, but some adverbs can come in handy. There’s only so much description one can use before sounding redundant.
While revising my novel, Fogged Up Fairy Tale, I was told that starting sentences with a present participle is unprofessional. It shows an amateur writer. So I went through the book and removed all present participles and gerunds. I understand there are different functions of the –ing words, which make the action awkward or simply impossible. Eating, he asked for a napkin. You can’t eat and ask for a napkin at the same time. Well, I’m sure some people might attempt it, but it isn’t socially acceptable. As I thought about this advice, which is a non-existent rule of grammar, I realized that this suggestion has risen from overuse. Some writer decided they didn’t like it and started advising against present participles. But isn’t everything supposed to be in moderation? To hell with this advice. I’ll go about it in moderation.
What do you think about these do’s, don’ts, and advice? Is there anything you’ve been told about writing that you don’t agree with?
Grammar and Advice,
P.S. When I need clarification regarding parts of speech, punctuation, etc., I refer to Grammar Girl.