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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Clean Writing--The "Avoids" by Celia Yeary @celiayeary @ rebeccajvickery

No, not that kind. My stories do have some sensual interaction between the hero and heroine, but not so little I could call them “clean.”

Instead, I’m referring to the structure of sentences and paragraphs. I know. A bit boring.
However, writing science research papers taught me the process of clean writing—manuscripts free of too many useless words. "Just the facts, ma'am." As a result, my first fiction manuscript was a failure. The editor said my writing sounded like a textbook. That sort of hurt, but the statement opened a floodgate of words that's still gushing. I could use adjectives! And adverbs! And descriptions! But also…too many useless words and phrases.

Still, I absolutely love to embellish sentences with adjectives, adverbs, and well…a long list of writing errors. If I remove the useless words in the previous sentence, I think it reads like a textbook. Where is that fine line?

AVOID USELESS WORDS: We consider good writing concise, vigorous, and active. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, as a machine should contain no extra parts. Fine idea. But an automobile is a machine.
1901 OLDSMOBILE
The first cars were little more than a buggy with an engine attached. They were unattractive and uncomfortable, built with only the necessary parts.
2016 Infiniti
The automobiles today contain endless useless parts, but we buy them because of those extra appealing upholsteries and gadgets.

I do agree, though, certain useless words or phrases need to go.
1."there is no doubt but that" should be "no doubt" or "doubtless"
2."this is a subject that" should be "this subject"
3."the reason why is that" should be "because"
4."owing to the fact that" should be "since" or "because"
5."he is a man who" should be "he"
(Hint: One quick way to clean a ms of useless words is to highlight the word “that” throughout. You’ll learn it usually is an unnecessary word, in addition to showing other useless words.

AVOID USE OF QUALIFIERS: A qualifier is a word or a word group that limits the meaning of another word or word group. The worst offenders are rather, very, little, and pretty.
"I should do pretty well on the exam, for I am a rather brilliant student, but if I make very many mistakes, I'll try to do a little better."

AVOID LOOSE SENTENCES: A loose sentence is one consisting of two clauses, the second introduced by a conjunction or relative. Too many loose sentences in one paragraph will sound mechanical and singsong. The compound sentence is the framework of writing, when used wisely and sparingly.
How NOT to:
"The last concert of the season was given last night, and the hall was filled to capacity. Jane Doe was the soloist, and John Smith accompanied her on the piano. She proved to be quite capable, while he performed admirably. The concert series has been successful, and the committee was gratified. The committee will plan for next year's programs, and they will offer an equally attractive program."

Blech! Recently, I tried to read a book written exactly as this example. Pages and pages of compound sentences. Notice, I tried to read the story.

Today's subject reminded me of edits on one of my early contemporary novels. A kind editor—in so many words--told me: You begin too many sentences with well, now, so, or why. (She had counted how many times I began a sentence with “well.” Ninety-seven times. I was embarrassed, but learned a lesson)
In some cases, these words are acceptable, especially when included in dialogue. Southern people talk this way, but in narration, use sparingly.
This made sense, because when I talk with a friend—on-line or face to face—those little words pop up all the time.
"What did she say when you said her hair was orange?"
"Well, first she stared. Then her eyes sort of bugged out, and before I knew it, why, she started bawling."
"Oh, my goodness. Now, here's what you should have said, darlin'. You just do not want to make her any madder."
"So, what should I have said?"

And so, well, I need to bring this post to a halt. I need to make a little lunch, because the fact is that my husband is mowing this morning, and he'll be starving. There's no doubt, though, that he won't say an unkind word to me if lunch if just a little late.(If you can edit this paragraph, you will receive an A+)
“Three of my Re-edited novels with more attractive covers”--
Each now at 99cents
Thanks to Laura Shinn





Thank you for visiting Once Upon a Word.
All my books may be found on Amazon—see link below.
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas


25 comments:

  1. So very true! I am one of those writers who had to learn not to overuse "that". So next story, I went in and removed most of them in my revising stage before sending it in, and the editor instead pointed out I liked to use "get" too much in that one. Thank God for good editors! (Karen in this case)

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    1. I had been published a few years before I learned about the overuse of "that." It's almost as though someone had a light bulb moment, and declared..."Aha! Here's another way to make authors feel stupid!(I love the highlighter in Word--it can find a plethora of errors.)

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  2. I'm a grammatical offender. I may up in language prison with a long "sentence" for my crimes. I don't think there is a single "don't" I haven't done. My favorite words are "that" and "so". As soon as I manage to quit one offense, I quickly find another. It's endless, but I keep working on it. Thank you for the great reminders. Maybe I can get out on parole soon.

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    1. Sometimes, "messy" writing is a product of the way you talk. There's nothing wrong with that--I would dread the day others could edit our speaking voice. We are what we are. In teaching teenagers, I learned to loosen up and speak in my normal "chatty" voice. Anytime I began to turn rigid with proper English, the kids...the darlings...would nod off or begin scribbling. This was before texting...now I could say, "I know you're texting. You're not just looking at your crotch." So, don't give up all those errors!

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  3. I've been a news editor forever, and "that" is the mistake I see most often. It's become so irritating THAT I've threatened to rip the T, H, and A keys off several writers' keyboards. Now I can point the offenders over here and remind them about the wrath of schoolteachers...although I must say you're wrath is much kinder than mine. ;-)

    As always, Celia, you are the very soul of helpfulness. Thank you, dear lady. :-)

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    1. I learned about the wicked word "that" in edits with my very first editor. I had no clue what she was talking about, and did not understand how one could write without using "that." She was very helpful and kind...the best of the lot, because she held my hand and walked me climb a new learning curve. Her name is Eve Mallary, if you ever see or hear anything by her. P.S. Sometimes it takes yelling--I guess by using a dreaded exclamation point?...to get the idea to stick.
      Thanks so much...you're welcome.

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    2. Just so you know, I realize I used the wrong homophone. YOUR, not you're. **sigh**

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  4. Great post, Celia. That and had are my major mistakes. I'll give your pointers a try!

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    1. Oh, we're all guilty. It's inborn...sometimes it's like moving a mountain to get writers to change. But I think you're one of the better writers.

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  5. Great post, Celia. I have more self-editing to do! One of the oddest things I ever saw in publishing was many years ago. I liked a particular movie (which shall remain nameless) so much I decided to read the book. I picked the book up in the store and flipped through it briefly, only to discover that there was absolutely no (zero) punctuation. At all! Essentially a 300- plus page run-on sentence! Not only did this book get published by a prominent publisher at the time, but it was made into a movie--that did pretty well by the way. Needless to say, I didn't buy the book because that would have driven me nuts! I still shake my head over that!

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    1. I think many of us remember that book...and shook our heads. In fact, I believe there was more than one author who wrote books with no punctuation, and close to each other, too. I'm searching my memory for the titles...I recall the premise...but authors and titles escape me right now. I agree--it was almost like a joke, to see if he/they could do this and get by with it.

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    2. Oh Dear, you shook some memory cells loose from college. Was that the Modernist or Deconstructionist movement or some such? The only book I can think of I tried to read and ran into that crazy problem was Ulysses by James Joyce. Totally unreadable, without punctuation anywhere. Our teacher only made us read one chapter and I don't think I even made it that far.

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  6. Great post, Celia, I almost hate to admit how much I need it. I try to get the manuscript in ship shape before sending it on, but all I can say is, thank goodness for editors.

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    1. Yes, amen to that. I do like self-editing, too, in order to catch as many errors as I can before sending it off. I have an electronic copy of Self-Editing steps.

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  7. Oh, just one more thing. I loved every single book in your Texas trilogy. Terrific stories!

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    1. You are so kind! Thank you. I do admit, I love those books, too..more than any others I've written. They were the first ones, when I wrote with abandon! Now, I'm thinking too much.

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  8. Celia, your writing is always "clean" in the grammatical sense, I mean. This post is a great example. I've been guilty of most of wordy sentences too many times to count. Thank goodness my editor catches them!

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    1. Lyn--that's because I worked REALLY hard on this post! At Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery, we each have a partner who is also with this company. We are each other's readers before sending the ms. to Rebecca. My Reader is wonderful--she catches so many little things, I'm always amazed I let those get by. Very helpful. She's not an editor...but she knows her grammar and how to spot odd things. For example, my big crime is repeated words. In one paragraph, I may use the same word 3-4 times. She always catches those. Yea! Thanks, Lyn.

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    2. I'm curious about this, Celia, as I don't have a partner/reader who also writes for Rebecca. Have I missed something somewhere?

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  9. So many grammar rules I learned in school have changed now, and 'that' is one of them! I was also taught never to start a sentence with 'And' or 'But' - and I now break that rule too!

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    1. Changing the rules can confuse. The new comma rules go right over my head. I use them only when I think they're correct..but sometimes, that rule has changed.

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  10. What lesson, Celia. Your teaching skills came into play on this blog post and I am impressed with all this knowledge you have presented. Oh, and I like your new photo, too. And I agree about comma usage. Use only when necessary.The manuscript I'm working on now has a new overused word. It is "mostly." And sometimes "most." So I've gone back and mostly taken all those out!!!

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    1. I like the word mostly, too. Of course, I do. Once a teacher, always a teacher..right? Comma placement have always seemed natural,but I have learned that is not always the case. So, back to the classroom on commas. Can you think of anything more boring? But we do what we must. Thanks for your comment. My blog is never complete until I read what you think.

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  11. I try to not be a grammatical offender.

    Denise

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    1. Don't we all, Denise...but we are all fallible. Thanks for visiting.

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Thank you for your interest and input.