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Writer Wednesday: Do You Suffer From One of These Writing Viruses?

Posted: 08/11/10 11:59 AM ET

Do You Suffer From One of These Writing Maladies?

There are pernicious writerly germs out there infecting pages all around the world. Left uncured they can be fatal. Talk to your book doctor or literary health provider if you notice any of these symptoms:

Yoda Effect: Difficult to read, sentences are, when reversing sentences an author is. Cart before horse, I'm putting, and confused, readers will be.

Overstuffed Sentences: An overstuffed sentence happens when a writer tries to pack too many things into one sentence in convoluted fashion, making it difficult for the intent of the sentence to come through and to follow it becomes an exercise in re-reading the sentence while making the sentence clearer in our brains so we can understand the overstuffed sentence, which is the point of reading.

Imprecision
: When writers just miss the target ground with their word using they on occasion elicit a type of sentence experiential feeling that creates a backtracking necessity.

Chatty Cathy: So, like, I don't know if you've noticed but OMG teenagers use so much freaking slang!!! And multiple exclamation points!!! In a novel not a blog post!!! And so I'm all putting tons of freaking repetitious verbal tics into totes every sentence and it's majorly exhausting the reader because WAIT I NEED TO USE ALL CAPS.

Repetition: Sometimes when authors get lyrical, lyrical in a mystical, wondrous sense, they use repetition, repetition that used sparingly can be effective, effective in a way that makes us pause and focus, focus on the thing they're repeating, but when used too many times, so many times again and again, it can drive us insane, insane in a way that will land the reader in the loony bin, the loony bin for aggrieved readers.

Shorter Hemingway: Clipped sentences. Muscular. Am dropping articles. The death. It spreads. No sentence more than six words. Dear god the monotony. The monotony like death.

Non Sequiturs: Sometimes when authors are in a paragraph one thing won't flow to the next. They'll describe one thing, wow can you believe that thing that happened three days ago?, and keep describing the first thing.

Description Overload: Upon this page there is a period. It is not just any period, it is a period following a sentence. It follows this sentence in a way befitting a period of its kind, possessing a roundness that is pleasing to the eye and hearty to the soul. This period has the bearing of a regal tennis ball combined with the utility of a used spoon. It is an unpretentious period, just like any other, the result of hundreds of years of typesetting innovations that allows it to be used, almost forgotten, like oxygen to the sentence only darker, more visible. And it is after this period, which will neither reappear nor matter in any sense whatsoever to the rest of the novel, that our story begins.

Stilted dialogue:
Character #1: "I am saying precisely what I mean!"
Character #2: "Wait. What is that you are trying to tell me?"
Character #1: "Are you frickin' listening to me? I am telling you precisely what I am feeling in this given moment. And I'm showing you I'm really angry by using pointed rhetorical questions and petulant exhortations. God."
Character #2: "Sheesh! Well, I'm responding with leading questions that allow you to tell me exactly what you mean while adding little of value to the conversation on my own. Am I not?"
Character #1:"You are totally doing that. You totally frickin' are. Ugh! I'm so mad right now!"

The Old Spice Guy Effect (excessive rug-pulling): The character was standing on a rug. He falls through his floor to his death! The rug was actually a trap door. But wait, the character was already dead. He merely faked falling through the trap door. But wait, the trap door was actually a portal into another world. The character was actually alive, he just thought he was dead. Now he's really dead. Or is he? I'm in a chair.

Have you spotted any other writerly viruses out there in the wild?

Nathan Bransford is a literary agent in the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown Ltd. and the author of "Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow," which will be published in 2011 by Dial Books for Young Readers. He blogs at http://blog.nathanbransford.com.

 

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