Continuing with our June guest posts is my good blogging friend Peter Cooper. I met Peter at the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (OWW) where he was most helpful in pointing out some of my writing tics to me when he critiqued An Autumn Tale. A valuable critique partner, he is also witty as is proven by his own blog posts. Peter’s guest post, Hobbit Letter, was showcased on Nathan Bransford’s blog back in August 2009, and he has other humorous posts that are fun to read.
Peter grew up in the country of South Australia, and has two degrees, one in Ancient History and another in Electrical Engineering. He has worked as a clerk, kitchen-hand, evangelist, sales assistant and currently works as a design-engineer. He wrote a lot throughout his teenage years, but took a break through his 20’s before he resumed writing again in his early 30’s.
I’m really happy I had the opportunity to critique Peter’s novel, The Ghost of Ping-Ling while Peter posted the novel on OWW. It’s a wonderful story full of delightful characters. His debut novel, The Ghost of Ping-Ling, exhibits both Peter’s story-telling talents along with his delightful sense of humor. The Ghost of Ping-Ling will be published by Omnibus Books, an imprint of Scholastic Australia sometime in late 2011:
As a foreigner and an orphan in the parochial little village of Ping-Ling, fifteen year old Dillen finds his days filled with drudgery and boredom. He longs for the day when he can finally leave. When an imperial messenger arrives in the town, and asks him to perform a simple but important task on behalf of the Emperor, Dillen thinks that day may have finally come. But as the task becomes more difficult and dangerous by the day, and as Dillen finds himself pursued by enemies in search of a priceless treasure, he begins to suspect that neither the messenger nor the task are what they seem.
by Peter Cooper
It would appear I have two such tics. When I’m writing in third person, my sentences all too often fall into the structure of clause comma participle clause. Examples are: “Dillen shook his head, running his hands through his dirt-clogged hair” and “Koto looked at him, shaking her head and wrinkling her nose.”
When I’m writing in first person, I have a different tic. There, for some reason, I fall into clause comma AS clause. The participle is gone, only to be replaced by “as” (which, I guess, serves the same purpose as the participle). Too many sentences read along the lines of “I sniffed as the little man rummaged through his pockets” or “The woman frowned at me as I reached for the phone.”
Both these word-patterns are my attempt to express simultaneity of action – a character doing one thing while at the same time doing another. Neither of them are incorrect. The problem comes when, like my chapters, the prose is chock full of the same kind of constructs. Not only does it become distracting for the reader, it makes the sentences boring and repetitive – giving your writing a flat feel.
It’s interesting that I didn’t pick up either of these tics myself. Both were noticed by reviewers on the Online Writing Workshop. Only then did I go back and look over my chapters and see, to my absolute horror, that the tics were everywhere.
Not that I should be surprised. I’ve noticed this kind of thing when I’ve been doing reviews for others, too. One example that sticks in my mind is an author who never varied her dialogue tags. Every single line of dialogue was followed by “she/he said” – always in the same place, always with the same words. The rest of her writing was superb, but this was just one thing that she was blind to, until somebody pointed it out.
And that’s the idea. That’s why it’s so vital to have objective readers give you criticism of your work. Now that I’ve noticed my own tics, I can fix them. That means going against my natural grain, and forcing myself to study and use other structures for expressing myself. That’s how we grow.
What are your writing tics? Have you noticed them, or are they hiding within the pages, awaiting some astute reader with an evil grin to point them out?