As writers, we all have certain tendencies. There are things that we each do when we write that should be avoided, yet we are helpless to stop ourselves from doing them. These are our crutches in writing: the things we need to look out for while editing, because we know they’ll be there. They always are.
I have crutches. I’m sure you do too, even if you haven’t been able to discern them yet. Usually, you will find these things out, by having other people read your writing and help you along the way: beta readers, family members, editors, agents, etc.
My crutches are: comma use (too many), re-using the same words too close together, and telling instead of showing. I’m going to explain each in a little more detail below.
In school I was taught, wherever you would naturally pause in a sentence, that is where you should place a comma. It is the device used to indicate the pause, especially for those reading aloud. So, that’s how I would use them…and use them…and use them. When I received my edited manuscript back from a friend who’d been looking it over, the first thing I noticed was how many of my commas had been crossed out.
Designating pauses was just one possible use for a comma. Sometimes certain words already make you pause and an additional comma isn’t necessary. Needless to say, I needed to do more studying up on when to use those pesky commas. Here is a list from Purdue University on when, they suggest, commas should be used and when they are better left out.
For issues like comma use, all we can do is try to study more and understand the whys and why nots about when to use them. I’m still trying to figure this one out.
Re-Using the Same Words too Close Together:
At this time, I wasn’t too sure what she was trying to say. Maybe she wasn’t happy with how our lives were going together. Maybe it was, at this time in her life, that she needed to be single again and couldn’t be bothered with me anymore.
The little blurb above I wrote to better illustrate my point. In this little narrative piece, I used the phrase “at this time” twice within two sequential sentences. I can look at the same document three times and not always catch such repetition. I didn’t even realize it was one of my crutches until a friend, and fellow writer, Athena Greyson (@AthenaGreyson), clued me in on it.
If you are going to use repetition in your work, make it purposeful. For example:
There was nothing more to be said. I wasn’t going to change who I was for her. I wasn’t going to get help. I wasn’t going to be the person she wanted me to be. How could she not have known what she was getting into when she married me? It wasn’t like I hid my tendencies. She must have just been too blind to see them, or they didn’t matter at the time. Why does it matter now?
In this blurb, you can see that I used “I wasn’t going to…” three times within three sentences. Notice, however, that here, it is done with purpose. The effect is to show the reader the frustration this addict-husband is feeling about his wife trying to change his unhealthy habits. He is trying to talk himself into believing that he made the right decision to throw in the towel on his marriage.
Sometimes it will take three or four times reading your own work (often even more) to find the repetitions you don’t mean to be there. Be patient with your writing and have your eyes open. Read through, just trying to pick out these areas. When you are editing, looking at your work as a whole can let these little things skate by. A more focused eye will let you see them more clearly.
Telling Instead of Showing:
This topic I am going to discuss in more detail another time, but I will mention this: telling can often read like a timeline or a series of events; showing puts you into the scene.
I went in my room. Sitting down on my bed, I opened my laptop to write.
Instead of doing the first example’s this-happened-and-then-that-happened “telling” format, consider something like this:
Slamming my door behind me, I was finally left alone in the silence that could only be found in my upstairs bedroom. It was more like a glorified closet really, but it was my “fortress of solitude”. My bed let out a pained creak as I sunk my body down into its waiting arms. Reaching over to my bedside table, I grabbed my laptop and the brightness of its login screen drowned out the rest of the world and the life that I had going on outside these four small walls.
Sound words are used here: slamming, silence, and “pained creak”. There are sight words too, “…brightness of its login screen…”. That is a big difference between showing vs. telling. By adding in sensory words and details, you feel as though you are there with the character instead of just watching from a distance.
These are a few of my known flaws in writing, what are yours? How do you go about finding them and correcting them?