One thing I love about having written a couple books folks read and appreciate is they eventually come to me at some point and ask if I’d read something they wrote and give my opinion. Watching a young writer explore and grow is very satisfying, but what I find ironic is the mistakes I see them make are the same ones I realized I was making once I sharpened my editing eye. The greatest mistake a writer can make is to construct sentences in a manner that forces their reader to work too hard to decipher what it is they are trying to convey.
My criticism applies to all words utilized in an attempt to over-describe a situation. Although we all want to impress our readers with our command of the English language, it’s really not necessary. As an example; I was asked to read a chapter written by a good friend of mine who read both “Erstwhile” and “There’s Something in a Name.” With her permission I would like to recreate one of her sentences and show how I’d change it.
Her story was about a fisherman who struggled mightily with a fish whose origin and species were unknown to him beneath the blackness of the water (very Hemingway). At the very beginning of the story her hero “Jack placed down some bait he had caught earlier that morning at the boat’s stern before moving below to stow his gear.” I’ve highlighted the words I would remove, and I’ll ask that you read the sentence again. “Jack placed bait he caught earlier that morning at the boat’s stern before moving below to stow his gear.” It simply flows much better and the reader will have an easier time placing himself/herself in the story.
I’ve noticed the biggest offenders are the words that, and had. Here is an example of what I mean:
“Gerry thought that she had closed the lid to the mayonnaise,” should be written, “Gerry thought she closed the lid to the mayonnaise.”
Once again, all words can create a speed-bump for your readers, but these two seem to creep into my stories, and the stories of those I read quite regularly. If you keep a keen eye and put them in their proper place, your stories will be better for your effort.
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