This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘“to be”’

10 Common Writing Errors

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on April 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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All writers begin writing at the same point in their lives, as novices. And as such, most make many of the same errors as they hone their craft of writing. Today, I’ll discuss some of the most common writing mistakes with the hope it’ll move you along your writing path a bit sooner than otherwise.

1. Grammar is the most obvious mistakes novice writers makes. English is a difficult language on its own and contractions, dangling participles, punctuation and all the rest only add to the confusion. However, to improve your writing, improve your grammar. I use Reader’s Digest “Success with Words” to answer my questions.

2. Empty adverbs are another sure sign a writer is a new to the craft of writing. Most often these are the dreaded “-ly” words that have crept into the American lexicon. A classic example of how these words should not be used comes to us from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. In it he writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

3. Poor dialogue will indicate a novice almost at once. Dialogue in novels is a tricky device to master but all it really takes is a bit of knowledge and practice. See this post for more on how to write DIALOGUE.

4. The nefarious verb, “to be” and all its devious forms tells your reader you’re new to the game. (And I can prove that with my first manuscript.) This word and its cousins flatten your narrative and slows the pace of your novel. I’ll again use the example from The Da Vinci Code to illustrate this. He writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.” Learn more about the verb “TO BE” here.

5. Lists of anything denote a novice. New writers might describe their setting with a list of things the character sees or they might depict someone’s emotions by clicking off a list of feelings the character experiences. This concept reaches into almost every facet of a novel. The problem with lists is they bore a reader. It’s as if you force them to tick off items on a visual clipboard. If you’re trying to describe something, focus on the small things that lie in unlikely places. For more on imagery, read this BLOG POST.

6. People in the early stages of their writing career often “tell” instead of “show” their story. That is, they issue vague statements in lieu of describing an idea in more detail. A classic example relates to how a writer depicts people. The inexperienced writer will describe a character as “beautiful” whereas the experienced writer describes the person in some detail so to allow the reader to visualize the woman’s beauty. They might write of the “perfect symmetry of her features,” which allows the reader to form their own mental pictures.

7. Talking heads are another common error of inexpert writers. A talking head is a character who exchanges in dialogue before the reader knows about this person or the setting in which they are placed. If you see pages with nothing other than dialogue on it, you may need to flesh out the characters, the setting or some other aspect of your scene.

8. Point of view issues identify new writers, too. POINT OF VIEW, or POV, indicates who is telling the story. There are a number of points of view and each has its rules as to who can tell the story. In First Person POV, the narrator of the story is the only character allowed to tell us what transpires. This means things he can’t see, for example the future, cannot be brought into the story. Further, this is the only character from which the reader will receive a firsthand insight into their feelings and thoughts. Readers can only learn about other characters by way of the narrator’s interpretations. In contrast, third person POV allows for more characters to get involved, but only one at a time. You need to move to another scene or chapter to bring in another character’s direct input.

9. New writers often don’t create scenes the reader can visualize. Did you realize the human mind works in pictures rather than words? This forces us to write in such a way as to “paint a picture” with our words. New authors often have yet to master than technique of creative detailing. You can learn more about COMPELLING IMAGERY in this article.

10. And finally, there is the tendency for new writers to pepper their stories with clichés. This is a sign they have yet to develop their creative abilities.

By no means is this a complete list of common writing mistakes, but if you review your work and find these everyday errors are missing, you’re well on your way to writing a great novel. I do hope your writing continues to improve and I also hope you know by now, I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

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“To be? Or not to be?”

In The Craft of Writing on November 23, 2009 at 9:29 am

The Great Bard did have a way with words, didn’t he?

I’ve been studying writing for some time now and have learned a few things of note. One of those things is the existence of The Rules of Writing. Chief among them is,

“Thou Shalt Remove All Forms of the word, ‘To be.’”

During my years of study with the craft of writing, I’ve learned many such rules and I have developed my favorites. My personal selection for MVP of The Rules of Writing is that all these many rules are really no more than gentle guidelines. However, that’s another post altogether.

For years, I yearned to remove all the forms of “to be,” but, if truth be told, I was only certain of a single form of the verb. And that, of course, was, “to be” itself. And would you like to know why I didn’t know the forms of, “to be?” It’s because of its definition which reads, “A form of the verb “To be” is combined with a past participle to form the passive.”

You may understand more than I, but I do not recall, nor currently understand how to combine whatever with a past participle to form anything, let alone “the possessive.”So, vainly I sought all forms of the word, “to be” but never quite had the handle on them until recently.

Searching the Internet, I found that thing for which I’d longed these many years. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I found all forms of the word, “to be.”

Therefore, in hopes I have not been the only person on the planet with this particular issue, I would like to share them with you today. They are:

Am

Is

Are

Was

Were

Being

Been

Be

Were

Not all the sinister after all, are they? The secret, of course, is checking to see if by eliminating the verb, your writing improves. Let’s first look at the rationale for this rule, shall we? I looked the explanation as to why this rule exists and found it at http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000040.htm. Are you ready for this? “It, [to be], is normally a linking verb showing existence or the condition of the subject.”

Let me see if I have the right. We can’t use it because it states that something exists? (Is that the gist of how you read this?) If so, that doesn’t help me at all. Regardless its definition or justification, let’s take a look at the rule in use to see if it does improve one’s writing. I used the “find” feature within my word processor and copied the first sentence with the word “been” in my current manuscript.

Ketty, the woman charged with raising Jak, had been best of friends with the lad from the day he first arrived at Waters View.

I’ll try to rewrite the sentence without using the word, “been.”

Ketty, the woman charged with raising Jak, had bonded with the lad from the day he first arrived at Waters View.

Which sentence is the better of the two? When reading it aloud, the second does improve the statement to my ear. I see a much stronger action verb in, “bonded” than I do with “had been.” (By the way, using stronger verbs is another of those rules to which we are subjugated.)

Let’s try it again, shall we? This time I’ll “find” the word, “were.” The sentence that showed up first in my manuscript was,

The walls, as in the foyer, were decorated with paintings of long-departed ancestors.

Rewritten it becomes,

The walls, as in the foyer, seemed only to serve as backdrop for paintings of long-departed ancestors.

I don’t know what you think, but I think it reads better. In both cases, I deleted the form of the word, “to be” and have produced a higher quality of writing each time.

I challenge you to try the same technique, and let me know what you find. As to me, I guess I’ll rework my manuscript one more time.

Until my next post, I wish you all best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze