Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Three Peeves

by Stephanie Black

Today’s blog is about three of my pet writing peeves. You may have different peeves, or may not consider mine peeve-worthy, but hey—feel free to disagree with me and/or post your own peeves in the comment trail. The more the merrier!

(Random thought: Peeveworthy would be a good name for a butler).

Here’s today’s writer-beware list, in no particular order.

1. This peeve is what one writing book—can’t remember which one—called “unintentional simultaneity.” It involves sentences like this:

Lacing her running shoes, Matilda sprinted down the stairs.

Did she? Wow! The woman is more flexible than Gumby and has the balance of a tightrope walker. The grammatical construction of the sentence indicates that she’s lacing her shoes and sprinting down the stairs at the same time. (Note: Do not try this at home).

Today’s advice: If you’re using an –ing clause to spice up your sentence, please be sure it makes literal, simultaneous sense.

I realize some of you may feel I’m being too picky about this. After all, readers aren’t going to take the sentence literally. They know what you mean. But it still bugs the heck out of me because it's just . . . wrong.

2. Head-hopping. Naturally, I can’t get through a list of peeves without mentioning head-hopping.

There are fantastic examples of omniscient third-person POV books out there. Take Gone With the Wind, for instance, where the narrator is not only free to jump heads whenever she chooses, but also to offer commentary on the characters that they would never offer on themselves, or to summarize how the war is progressing, or whatever is needed. It's brilliantly done. What I don’t like is when a book is written in a POV that, rather than feeling omniscient, feels like third-person limited (seeing only what the viewpoint character sees) until zap, the writer jumps into another head mid-scene.

Today’s advice: Unless you truly mean to use an omniscient viewpoint in the sense that that narrator is an observer on the action, wait for a scene or chapter break to switch viewpoints.

3. Blah climaxes. After two or three or four hundred pages of build-up, I want some payoff.

When you go to a fireworks display, where does the biggest eruption of color and light come? At the end. When fireworks start exploding right on top of each other, you know it’s the finale. Wouldn't you be disappointed if you went to a fireworks display and it ended with single, smallish burst? You'd sit on your blanket on the grass, staring hopefully at the sky, waiting for the real finale, until, faced with only a blank, black sky and a few wisps of smoke, you'd finally mumble, "I guess that was it," and go home. Disappointing, right? You expected it to end with the biggest bang.

Another example: our community symphony played Tschaikovsky's 1812 Overture in our recent concert, and it was the last number on the program. As our conductor pointed out, what can you do after the 1812? He’s right. Anything else would be anticlimactic (Tangential story: when we were rehearsing the 1812, I was sitting right in front of the percussion section. As we were playing, I heard a crash, among all the usual crashing, that sounded like a cymbal hitting the floor. But I thought maybe it was supposed to sound that way, until we finished, and the conductor and percussionist were discussing his broken cymbal strap. Oh—it sounded like a cymbal hitting the floor because it was a cymbal hitting the floor. At the rehearsal break, the percussionist came up to me and reported that he’d just about had a heart attack—the strap for the cymbal had broken on a big upswing, and there he was, watching this cymbal go flying through the air toward me. And there I was, sawing away at my violin, unaware that I was in danger of getting creamed by a flying cymbal. Come to think of it, it’s a good thing we didn’t have real cannons . . . ).

Anyway, where was I?

Today’s advice: Climaxes--make them appropriate, satisfying, and big enough to merit the build-up. A blah climax is such a letdown. You don’t want your reader reading the climax and then turning the page feeling like, um, was that it?

Now it's your your turn. What are your pet peeves? I know you have them.


At 5/28/2008 6:24 PM, Blogger L@pterces said...

Speaking of blah climaxes... anyone seen the new Indiana Jones?

At 5/28/2008 6:32 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

I agree with everything you said. A couple of peeves I'd add are when I catch myself doing the gymnastic clause thing when I know better and absolutely hate it in someone else's writing. The other peeve is probably a copy editing thing. More and more books are leaving out identifying articles that should precede nouns. A, an, and the matter! Make sure they're in there. Before our friend ly jumps on the bandwagon, I'll add that I dislike the overuse of adverbs too, though unlike him, I find a few well-placed ones acceptable.

At 5/28/2008 6:33 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Stephanie, We were separated at birth. Or at least we share the same peeves.

Another one of mine is where the POV is injected constantly as if the reader can't figure it out. If we're in John's head, we don't need to be told that he saw, heard, or noticed whatever. Just SHOW the thing. We know he SAW it.

I've got lots of peeves. Maybe I should blog about them. It would take awhile to run out of material. :)

At 5/28/2008 7:34 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Regarding Head-Hopping: I was initially annoyed at the weird POV shifts at the beginning of Counting the Stars where you'd start with Tara or the sister and eventually get to Jane, but later I thought it was sort of cinematic.

The camera focuses on this minor character then follows them until they reach the important character. Sort of like the feather opening sequence in Forrest Gump.

Personal Peeve: the use of an exotic descriptor that gets overused. Can anyone name the fantasy author who uses "lantern-jawed man" and "rat-faced man"?

At 5/28/2008 10:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Rat-faced man"? Sounds like David Eddings describing Silk.

At 5/28/2008 10:12 PM, Blogger Crystal Liechty said...

ha ha! I LOVED the cymbal story. I could see it all happening in slow motion. Totally agree with your peeves and will add one of my own: characters who don't grow.

At 5/29/2008 1:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a literalist - I hate sentences that are actually badly done metaphor.

"Jane's eyes dropped to the floor in embarrassment."

OUCH!! Someone call a doctor, quick!

Drives me to distraction!

At 5/29/2008 12:19 PM, Blogger sperrynluv said...

My pet peeve is when you pick a book, start reading it, and then realize half way through the third chapter that this is a sequel. You flip through to the front of the book, but the first book in the series isn't mentioned or there is a long list of books by the same author.

At 5/29/2008 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ran into Jennie Hansen at, of all places, Gold's Gym. She said she was working out yet another book review. I didn't ask her if the review perspired. I figured the authors who await her review are sweating enough. And, in the Wellian tradition, I asked her for an interview. She declined. I asked again.

Jennie said, "Look, I've only got enough time for a whey protein shake and then I'm outta here."

Ly: "I noticed you've given the green light to authors to use Ly adverbs here and there in their fiction. Do you think its wise to lift the ban? I mean, a lot of them don't understand the ramifications."

Jennie: "I'll have a double strawberry. No straw."

Ly: "You come here a lot?"

Jennie: "Its a good stress relief."

Ly: "So about those adverbs."

Jennie: "Do I look like Webster?"

Ly: "I didn't mean to suggest you were an authority."

Jennie: "You don't like my reviews, do you?"

Ly: "You didn't review my third book."

Jennie: "You wrote a third one?"

Ly: "Yeah, it came out after the second."

Jennie: "I'll check my files."

Ly: "You threw it away?"

Jennie: "Make that a strawberry/banana."

Ly: "You do understand that adverbs in speaker attributions act as a crutch to poor dialogue."

Jennie: "We've been over this before."

Ly: "And if the narration isn't strong enough to stand on its own, an adverb will only prolong the pain before it is deleted from a good manuscript."

Jennie: "I know, I know."

Ly: "Then why did you do it? You've opened the adverbial flood gates and we may never close them again."

Jennie: "Get off my back, Ly."

Ly: "I mean, these people believe in you. They look to you for advice. You say adverb they say: how high?"

Jennie: "Don't put this on me."

I left Jennie sitting at the gym's nutrition bar with her strawberry/bannana shake. But before I went back to the treadmill I said, rather bluntly, "You're going to ruin them and they'll love you for it."

At 5/29/2008 3:54 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Nice final comment there, Ly. =)

1st Anon: you got it! (I think lantern-jawed man was from the Sparhawk books.)

At 5/30/2008 12:39 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Thanks to everyone for sharing your peeves. It was interesting to see what bugs people.

At 5/30/2008 1:56 AM, Anonymous Vanessa said...

Having characters do the same thing over and over. For example, in the Stephanie Meyer vampire books Edward is ALWAYS 'chuckling'. Aren't there other ways to show his amusement? It's lazy characterization.

At 5/30/2008 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

UGH. When authors use dialog between two people to inform the audience of something the two of them ALREADY KNOW. Recently read a book where there were two sisters who grew up together and one of them said "As you know, mom has a sister two years younger than her. They drifted apart as adults, but never really had any bad feelings between them. Her name is Jane."
And characters who don't speak like real people. People don't say they are going to exercise at the "membership-only fitness facility" they go to the gym.
And my final pet peeve - stupid typos that should have been caught by somebudy before the book went to press! There's no excuse for some of the books I have seen just riddled with shopping at the "mqarket", taking a "pllunge" in the pool, or walking down the "str,eet".

At 5/30/2008 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an excuse for the slopppy edittting.

My editor submitted the unedited version of the type set manuscript. The characterizations were in perfect form. The plot lines were strong. What was missing? A final going over by the copy editing team. As a result we published forty thousand copies with 150 glarring errors. There was even a sentence with a period in the middle. The editor has since moved on to other pastures. I'm still stuck with a published work of errors and a reputation for not having an ounce punctuation sense in my bones.

At 5/30/2008 9:54 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Oh Anon, I am in agony for you! Major nightmare for a writer, to have the wrong manuscript go to press!

At 6/01/2008 8:40 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

LY, by the way, I dislike strawberry drinks and I detest almost anything banana. As for dropping the ly rule, I'm not dropping it, just saying an occasional adverb, especially in dialog is okay. People actually do pronounce one once in awhile.

At 6/03/2008 1:47 PM, Blogger Mary Murphy said...

Jon Spell,
David Eddings is my favorite fantasy author. I have read his series at least six times each, except for The Dreamers. My most favorite of his books is The Redemption of Althalus. His stories are captivating.


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