Monday, March 1, 2010

Writing Pitfalls 4: Style

Minimizing the Importance of Style
You may reduce the impact and likability of a great story idea by being lax in its execution. If your unpolished style makes readers try too hard to figure out what you’re expressing, you may lose them. Follow basic style, grammar and punctuation rules to create prose that’s easier to read and understand.

Too Many Elements in One Paragraph
Cramming too much in one paragraph has been a big problem in many submissions we’ve read. This can confuse readers. Separate elements to simplify interpretation for your audience. People will give up if they can’t figure out who’s talking, thinking and acting.
• Put each person’s dialogue in a separate paragraph.
• Limit descriptions of a character’s thoughts, actions or observations in his or her dialogue paragraph. Put long details of each of these three elements in separate paragraphs.
• Never include one character’s thoughts, actions or observations in someone else’s dialogue paragraph.
• Attribute dialogue occasionally.
• Shorten too-long paragraphs. When you write in our digest-size format, you see how long paragraphs will be when published. A page with just one or two excessively long paragraphs looks like a daunting task for the reader.

Style, Grammar and Punctuation Mistakes
• Change scenes after a time lapse in the present, when moving to different location and when changing POV.
• Strive for a balance between dialogue, actions, thoughts, feelings and observations.
• Don’t mention anything that you don’t tie up by the end.
• Characters need to react to what others’ say and do.
• In third person, don’t use “I” when expressing a character’s thoughts. That’s clear in that POV.
• Don’t follow someone’s thoughts with: , she thought. That’s clear in her POV.
• Divide run-on sentences into easier-to-digest sections. Don’t just add a comma and keep on going for multiple lines.
• I saw lots of subsequent sentences starting with the same word. Repetitious words and sentence structure make your writing sound stilted.
• Watch out for passive voice. Things don’t just happen; someone or something has to enact them. Readers feel a stronger connection when characters behave, relate and think actively.
• Subjects and verbs must agree. Make sure a plural noun doesn’t have a singular verb or vice versa. Don’t refer to one person as they.
• Many people used misplaced modifiers and misused there and it. Refer to my Storyteller Tips Blog 4 for details.
• None of these words end in an “s”: toward, backward, forward, upward, downward, anyway.
• Don’t write that a character’s eyes darted, bounced, peered, cut, etc. Use gaze instead so eyeballs are flying around.
• Replace “alright” with “all right.”
• Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.
• Limit incomplete sentences to an occasional dialogue comment or thought. (“No problem.” “Will do.” Never again.) Note: A complete sentence (independent clause) has both subject and verb.
• When you combine two independent clauses in one sentence, separate them with: , and/but. (Holly opened the door, and she screamed.)
• But to join an independent clause and a dependent one in one sentence with and/but, omit the comma. (Holly opened the door and screamed.)
• A dependent clause requires a comma before an independent one. (When Holly opened the door, she screamed.)
• An independent clause must precede and follow a semi-colon. (Holly opened the door; she screamed.)
• Commas and periods go inside quotation marks. Place other punctuation according to construction.
• Wrong dialogue punctuation style: “I’m glad.” He said. Change to one sentence: “I’m glad,” he said.
• Missing comma when addressing people: “Hi Tom.” Change to: “Hi, Tom.”
• Read more advice on these topics in my Storyteller Tips blog before you begin writing or making corrections.
• Don’t add or omit punctuation arbitrarily. Search the web for help with any other questions I haven’t answered in my blogs.

What’s Next?
Practice the writing tips in this and my other blog posts. Keep checking the Cliffhanger Books website for announcements of selected stories, publication dates and future anthologies in this and other genres.

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