Friday, June 8, 2007

From Donna’s Book of Wisdom (or the lack thereof) – Writing Tips

by Donna Hatch

Two years ago, I attended a Writers’ Conference. One of the subjects discussed was the incorrect use of simultaneous action. Since then, I have noticed how many other writers – mostly new writers – use this. And ever since my eyes have been opened, it has become not only suprememly annoying, but something of a pet peeve of mine.

Here’s an example:

“Crossing the room, she seated herself at the vanity.”

It is not humanly possible for her to cross the room at exactly the same time as she sits herself at the vanity. She would first cross the room, then sit.

Here’s another:

“Stumbling to the sink, she washed her face.” First she’d stumble, then she’d wash her face.

And a third:

“Flinging open the door, he stormed outside.” First he’d fling open the door, then he’d storm outside.”

Now here are some correct uses:

Looking over her shoulder, she backed the car out.

Grinning wickedly, he threw a rock.

Stumbling over the shoes on the floor, she felt for the door.

Choosing not to ring for her maid, she got dressed by herself.


Now remember, this is a pattern to be used SPARINGLY. Overusing an "ing" verb then a comma, then another action, can become distracting even if its correctly used. So, instead of relying upon using incorrect simultaneous action – which is not only annoying because of its impossibly, but screams novice writer – think about exactly what you want to say and then say it as succinctly as possible.

Part of the reason why people do this, is because they are trying to link together a bunch of actions without saying; “she did this and then she did that.” If that's you, then ask yourself if you really need to go into so much detail.

Here’s a scenario:

“I woke up. Sunlight streamed through the windows, declaring, to my annoyance, that morning had arrived. Muttering, I sat up, pulled back the covers and swung my feet over the edge. I stood up, I donned a robe and went to the window. I looked out to see children playing in the street and birds singing in the trees as if they hoped to mock me with their cheer. With a sigh, I turned away and went to the closet. I opened the door and selected a black tee shirt and jeans. Black fit my mood perfectly. I pulled on the tee shirt and jeans, and stepped into a pair of keds.”

Okay, now while there’s nothing horribly wrong with the above statement, it is a little boring because it goes into too much detail. Assume the reader is intelligent enough to piece together what you are NOT saying.

Like this:

“Sunlight streamed through the windows, declaring, to my annoyance, that morning had arrived. Muttering, I got up, donned a robe and went to the window. Children played in the street and birds sang in the trees as if they hoped to mock me with their cheer. With a sigh, I turned away and dressed in a black tee shirt and jeans. Black fit my mood perfectly.”

It’s not only shorter, but doesn’t insult anyone’s intelligence by giving too much detail. It also avoids any incorrect simultaneous action, because I don’t feel I should somehow cram so many actions into a few lines.

Happy Writing

--
Donna
Believe in Happy Endings...


3 comments:

  1. Thanks, Donna. Now I'm wondering how often I write the impossible. I'll be on the alert now (I hope) at least a little to keep simultaneous action in the realm of possibility.

    I love to get tips on how to do things better. Your 'Book of Wisdom' gets better and better. No wonder I find it easy and enjoyable to critique your writing.
    Anna

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  2. Thank you for the great writing tips! I loved the examples. They were very helpful.

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  3. Thank you soooo much, Donna. I think you'll all have to call me Mrs. Impossible from now on, because I think I use simultaneous action incorrectly all the time. (I'm going to go check.) You've really given me something to think about, and a good writing tip the next time I have to teach at ANWA meeting.

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