Are you repeating yourself?

PJ here. I love the editing process. Well…love might be too strong a word. What I do love, though, is learning my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and layering my story with the fine brush strokes that hopefully make the characters leap off the page and the plot keep readers riveted.

As I’m reading through a printed copy of WESTERN DESERT, my editor’s voice rings in my ear.

Coming June 24, 2013!
Coming June 24, 2013!
She has pointed out a specific weakness many times, but I couldn’t see it for myself until I read it on a printed page. There are just some things my eyes don’t pick up on the computer screen. In my case, it’s the glaringly repetitious -ing sentence structure that results in lots of “telling”. It seems I have a habit of structuring my sentences as follows:

We stopped only when necessary and took turns driving, making good time and closing in on our destination.

All in all, it’s not a horrible sentence, but repeating this pattern frequently can really bog down the writing. This is clearly a case of “telling”–beginning with a subject/verb construction, using –ing words, and making it a weak sentence that is unnecessarily long. Ooops! I did it again! Did you catch it? I’ve used two phrases connected by a comma, requiring me to use the gerund form of the verb in the second phrase. Darn it! I did it yet again! I can’t seem to help myself, LOL. Believe me, it was an eye opener when I finally saw it. Hopefully, I’ve taken care of the problem through most of the manuscript. If not, I’m certain my second round with an editor will catch it.

As for strengths, I’ve been told I have a knack for description. Here’s an example of using description to ground the reader in place and to paint a picture of the scene.

In the distance the Western mountain ranges turned a deep purple under clouds of smoke from wild-fires gone unmanaged. The coastal winds from the ocean beyond carried the wayward flames toward the desert, but with nothing but sand and cactus, they would die of starvation long before they reached us or the city of Las Vegas.

Although this could be considered telling, in just a few sentences you get a clear picture of the environment and lots of information about what’s happening. Like most writers, I struggle with brevity—the art of saying more with fewer words—but I’m definitely improving.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have any particularly stubborn habits that bog down your writing?

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11 thoughts on “Are you repeating yourself?”

  1. It is pretty amazing Paula, the glaring repetition. My editor calls it lazy writing. She has pointed out how I lose the show/action with their use, however, there are times to employ them, that are appropriate. My “Pocket Style Manual” says that ‘A gerund is a verb form ending in – ing that functions as a noun.’ Now when I see gerunds, adjectives and adverbs, they jump off the page at me. Sometimes, I put the book down, never to pick it up again. But I am pleased to know when it is okay to use them, and in fact, it could heighten what I want to convey. I have to think . . .

    1. I’m commenting from my phone, but when I’m at the computer there is a tab in the right hand corner to ‘edit’ comments…I think.

      As for gerunds, there are definitely times it’s okay to use them and in fact it may be the best choice for that instance. The problem is overuse of any particular sentence structure that slows pacing, is passive, or makes the flow monotonous. We all have habitual patterns we follow. It’s about becoming aware of them so we don’t abuse them.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I’m also a big fan of “that”. Auto crit is great for rooting them out. I had 55 of them in one chapter…yikes. I successfully got rid of about 30 instances and the chapter read soooo much better.

    1. Hi Tamara! I found it last year and have used it on my last two manuscripts. It’s an enormously helpfu program, although the reports can be daunting when you have an entire manuscript to evaluate. I use it mostly as a guide to catch the glaring mistakes these days.

  2. I agree with you, Paula, there are some things you just don’t see on the printed screen. Not only that, but when you know what you want to say sometimes your eyes see what your brain thought you wanted to say rather than what is actually written on the page. I just did a re-read of the digital version of A Pirate’s Ransom because it is coming out in print in June, so I’ll see if I caught all those little picky things. Thanks, PJ. Good article.

    1. Thanks Gerri. No matter how many times I go through a manuscript I can always find better ways of saying things. Editing is a never ending process…uggg!

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