Thursday, April 7, 2011

Common Syndromes Afflicting Authors

As we tediously paint words upon blank pages with every stroke of a key, it is only natural that we authors experience afflictions.  Sure, there is the usual writer's block which heals itself over time and a sudden bought of enlightenment.  However, there are also those afflictions that can be pathological in nature.  Afflictions that can tear apart a writer's hopes and dreams rendering their carefully crafted sentences dull and their manuscripts lifeless.  The good news is these afflictions (a/k/a common mistakes writer's make) can be cured with a small dose of reality and common sense.

1.  Claustrophobentences-What the reader develops when reading a sentence packed with so many adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases that they're praying for a period to make the room stop spinning.  As those more eloquent individuals than I have so aptly stated: "Sentences are not mini vans."  Sure, you want your sentences to have more depth and verbiage than an elementary school book report, but there is a fine line between crafting a sentence comprised of elegant fluidity and one filled with utter foolisness.  Plenty examples of the latter are contained within the pages of a Stephenie Meyers novels, but that's a blog for another day. 

For the love of God Don't:   It was such a gloriously beautiful morning that I decided to hop out of my warm, comfy bed, pull on my magenta slacks with the the copper buttons positioned vertically down the side of each leg and skip down the road to Grandma's home; the white house on the corner of my unusually quiet but quaint neighborhood.

Thank God I can put the Aspirin away now, Do:  I'm going to Grandma's house today.

The latter sentence states the same idea without going into all of the unnecessary and cringe-inducing detail. 
Claustrophobentences,  if you've finished an entire page of your manuscript and you only have two punctuation marks, you may want to up the meds.

2.  Descriptochondria-The new blue silk shirt rubbed against my tan, smooth skin as I swiftly walked down the weathered sidewalk, aligned with dying, sun-scorched plants, purposefully avoiding eyecontact with those of whom I passed.

Descriptions (or adjectives) are meant to be fun like the occassional cocktail and night out on the town.  Like those indulgences, they are also to be used sparingly adding just an added touch of zest to your manuscript. Enough to get your readers buzzed without the unpleasant hangover.

3.  Punctuficiency and Punctugluttony-There is a happy medium between using entirely too much punctuation and not enough punctuation and it's the author's mission to find it.  We've all read novels where we had to read and re-read a sentence, paragraph or entire page because something just doesn't jive well.  Chances are those novels either suffer from comma deficiency or semicolon gluttony.

Punctuficiency:  I went to the barn found a shovel walked to the back yard and began digging the grave for the novel whose utter senselessness consumed my thoughts sending me into hysterics.

Punctugluttony-After I buried that monstrosity, I went to the kitchen, ransacked the cupboard; and found a jar of peanut butter, to make a sandwich.

4.  ImgoingtopushmyselftogetthisnoveldonesoicanbethenextJKRowlingitis-At one time or another we've all suffered from one aspect of this.  True, as writers most of us don't care about making money as we write just to satisfy the aching within our souls.  Still, there are those who hear about an author's success or the success of a particular genre (vampires anyone) and decide that writing a novel can't be that hard.  Hence, thirty days later after they've quit their jobs, they have the first draft of their novel hammered out and are counting down the days until the bejamins start rolling in (these people are still sitting on the couch with one hand down their pants and the other stuffed in a bag of Doritos counting).  For those of us living on planet Earth, we know the process of writing a novel is a little more involved than putting a few coherent sentences together.

5.  Firstdraftisperfectnia-There is a high that comes after one completes their first novel that is like nothing they've ever experienced before.  It's as though tapping that final period on the keyboard has somehow validated you as an author.  Now, instead of saying to yourself  "one day I will have to sit down and start writing that novel", you can honestly say that you've written that novel.  With that high comes the dangerous assumption that the first draft is the finished product (for those writers who haven't done any research that is).  So, when those authors pitch their novel to an agent who asks to see their manuscript, they are shocked and dismayed when, five minutes later, they are greeted with a flat-out "thanks, but no thanks," response.  I know this may come as a shock to you, but you are not perfect.  With that being said, neither is your writing. I don't know how many times I've gone through my first novel and still, after each and every time, I'm finding errors in grammar, spelling and puctuation along with dialogue and sentence structure that would be better with additonal revisions.  When you read your own work, you know what you mean; your mind mentally corrects those mistakes that would be glaring to others.  To correct this affliction, I suggest you do the following:  Take your manuscript and put it away for at least a few weeks (some sources say as long as six months, but who can wait that long); after that time has passed, take it back out and start editing.  You will be amazed by how much you actually do change and how much closer to perfect your manuscript will be.

6.  Monowordpotence-One of the most basic of rules that any author is or should be well acquainted with (in fact, I distinctly remember learning about it in grade school) is varying the words you choose to begin your sentences.  Or, in layman's terms, "don't use the same damn word to begin each sentence or, if unavoidable,  more than two sentences within the same paragraph."  In a popular saga, that shall remain nameless, there is at least one page where the word "the" (at least, I think it was "the") was used over 40% of the time.  This means that nearly half the sentences on the ENTIRE page began with the word "the". That's enough to make any manuscript go soft (pun intended).  Let's take a look at what monowordpotence looks like:

The quick, brown fox jumped over the lazy, brown dog.  The lazy, brown dog was having a bad day.  The lazy, brown dog told the quick, brown fox to stay off his lawn.  The quick, brown fox did not listen.  The lazy, brown dog went all Chuck Norris on the quick, brown fox.  The lazy, brown dog had stew that night.

The previous paragraph makes my head hurt.  The gun in the corner of my room may fix that.

7.  Stairing at this page makes me want to rip my hare out as nun of the words hear make sense the way they are written, you sea what I'm saying?-Homophones--words that sound alike but have completely different meanings and spellings--are one of the most battered, bruised and abused step-children in the English language.  Whenever I go onto public news forums and read the comments posted on some of the articles, it makes me cringe to the point I start fearing my face will permanently freeze that way.  If you are absolutely not 110% positive that you are using the correct spelling of a word, by all means do yourself and your reader a favor and LOOK IT UP.  Just say "no" to homophone abuse.

8.  Whose, who's, it's, its, mania-Contractons are a beautiful thing as they are used to efficiently combine two simple words together to form one even simpler word requiring less work on the part of the reader.  However, it's those individuals who don't understand their concept nor take the time to learn from their mistakes that make others want to pull their hair out.  Common contractions such as I'm for I am; won't for will not; it's for it is; who's for who is; and they'll for they will have been part of our grammatical society for eras.  Yet, still there are those who have absolutely no idea how to use them.  If you have to ask someone when to use whose instead of who's, you may seriously want to reconsider a career in writing as you're going to be in for a huge headache when their, there and they're creeps up on you.

9.  Don't Turn your head and ignore-Feedback is critical for any author.  For a new author, it may mean the difference between an admirable career and writing term papers for little Billy next door.  The opinions of others matter--especially those in the demographic you're aiming to appeal to.  What you may think is an airtight plot after reading it over and over again a thousand times may, to your reader, really contain enough pinholes to sink the Titanic.  You are biased; your readers are not.  Keep an open mind and the doors will follow.

10.  Kitschy Cliche Syndrome-"My cheeks turned as red as a rose", "Your eyes are as blue as the ocean/sky/Smurf's butt" (pretty much anything obviously blue).  This is a syndrome that I have to constantly treat myself for--a thesaurus works pretty effectively. It's also one of the easiest syndromes to develop as, although the writing may not be bad and the grammar correct, it doesn't bring anything new or exciting to the table.  We all know that roses are red and the sky is blue--why beat that dead horse some more?  Readers want new and enlightening.  They want passages that make them think and challenge their intellect, not something that rehashes phrases contained within the notes they passed to their middle school crushes.

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