Sunday, June 10, 2012

in training

This week I revised two chapters in my WIP. When I finished, I was surprised at how many changes I had made, keeping in mind the conventions that govern publishable works these days.

Using strong verbs. Eliminating adverbs and superfluous adjectives. Avoiding the past perfect tense, etc., etc. So...I'm learning. I have taught my ear to seek out these offenders...and retrained myself to appreciate the sound of the rewrite--its rhythm and flow. The prose sounds crisper and tighter, but it doesn't come easily to me.

The question is: how was my ear trained in the first place? Where did I learn to use the colorful adverbs and flowery adjectives that flow so naturally onto the paper for me? Who taught me about verb tenses?

When did punctuation change? Why?

I went back to a couple of classics to see where the problem began. I turned to the small collection of books I enjoyed as a child, including Anne of Green Gables, An Old-fashioned Girl, Lad of Sunnybank, and The Yearling, among others. I also pulled out a couple of more contemporary pieces. I paged through them at random, and this is what I came across:
  • Hogan spoke to him cheerily...
  • ...the helplessly writhing head.
  • ...said meditatively, said resignedly, said smilelessly, said thoughtfully (all in the space of one page in Anne of Green Gables, possibly my favorite preadolescent read!)

  • ...sat up dizzily and answered uncertainly, hastily summoned, hurried wildly (also from Anne of Green Gables. Booooo!)
  • He put his hand on my shoulder again embarrassedly. (Hemmingway. Really?)
  • Jordan looked at him alertly, cheerfully...
  • ...was dancing, were sitting, were doing (all on one page in The Great Gatsby)

  • ...holding each other torturously, fashionably/dancing individualistically (same page from Gatsby)
  • ...sighed wearily, let her head fall heavily, laughed hysterically, looked at her clothing strangely...
Alas! The violations were too many and too frequent! Shame on them! My critique partners would be all over me if I brought this kind of thing in for them to read! Yet, this is how my ear was trained...

. appreciate wordiness, to read passively, to flow with the melody rather than march to the percussion.

Now, when I revise a scene, I hunt down the word "was." I cringe at the "was verb-ing" construction. I try to chop everything that ends in -ly. I've been trained to avoid some fine words: suddenly, ever, even...innocent little connectors that fit the cadence of the sentence. I miss them, but I think I can live without them. It's starting to sound better to me, now. Finally.

The use of the comma still sometimes baffles me, though.

"Genius does what it must; talent does what it can."
--Edward Bulwer-Lytton--
Today I have the privilege of attending a book signing. One of my critique partners  has published his first paranormal thriller, Shepherd's Fall! Proof that there is hope...


  1. It's just practice practice practice....every time I write something I go through it looking for "that"...I am a big fan of "that" apparently.

  2. Delores--I think I'm over "that"...

  3. Your post was right on. Read the classics and discover how 'not' to write for today's expectations.
    I wish I could have attended George's signing. I forgot until I read your blog.

  4. For us seniors, the changing rules are even more confusing. So many of the grammer absolutes that were drummed into me in school have changed completely. I keep wondering who changed the Enlish language and why wasn't I notified.

  5. i think the classics got it right