Saturday, February 18, 2006

Fainting, Fits, Starts and Curses



Rare indeed is the writer who produces copy-ready prose on the first go.
They do exist, I suppose.
I hope I never meet one.
Most of us have our private genetic weaknesses: the tendency to commit one or more grammatical solecisms, indecorous conjunctions, blunders in syntax, deviances in word etiquette - and commit them with a regularity that would awe and astonish a proctologist.
Improper pronouns, maybe. Unseemly comparatives. Indecent double negatives.
One of the purposes of revision is be on the watch for the little buggers - and wipe carefully.
I have two in particular that I commit with punctual carlessness, and they burn my rostrum.

Subject and verb agreement: It's not that I don't know better.
But in the fine flurry of adding another phrase or clause I often forget to go back and make sure that the verb I ended up with agrees with the noun I first introduced, the pas becomes de deux. Or is sometimes left doing a grand jete all by its lonesome.

Unnecessarily tense:Another is not so much a genuine grammatical error but a stylistic one - quite like spastic constipation.
As a result of rigorous exercise by Miss Hemstra ( otherwise known as the Rat) an upright grammarianista at the Salt Springs Academy, I have this excessive preoccupation toward a precise delineation of the time-line of any action.
The past perfects, the present perfects, etc. It's not that I use them correctly, necessarily - any more than I did then; but I have the tendency to sling in "hads" and "wases".
The new speedy-reader is not so punctillious, precious or particular. They prefer simple tenses."He went," not "He had gone."

Bring out your dead.
Confess your sins.
What's your Scarlet Letter?
What do you have to watch for on revision?

Baby's public house: the female breast; proletarian; late 19th c.
Then the town bull is a bachelor: semi-proverbial; incredulous of a woman's alleged chastity; mid 17th-18th c. Not restrictive to either women or chastity.
Back-door, a gentleman or usher of: a sodomist, mid 18th c. >; hence back-door work.
Back-door trumpet: A mid 19th c. > variant of ars musica...

25 comments:

Sela Carsen said...

I repeat words like "just" and "really." I use non-period words. I have passivity issues -- but only on paper! I write in wases, then have to make them more active where I can.

Bernita said...

Yepyepyepyep.
I do that too.
And over-use "some" because I'm naturally reluctant to use absolutes.
These sins I commit so regularly they have become an automatic check.
I view them with such resignation that they are a mere minor annoyance and don't make me say badbad words like the two I mentioned.

Erik Ivan James said...

I must watch out for EVERYTHING. Reading the various blogs over the past few weeks has convinced me that I need help big-time if I am going to ever have a chance at publication. So, I have approached a friend of mine who is a retired English teacher and requested instruction from her. She wants to think about it---if I were her, I'd think long and hard.

Savannah Jordan said...

Well, when writing the dark prose, I have trouble with "blood." It can get awfully repeative.

When writing erotic, I struggle with over use of "skin" and "flesh."

And, in general, I can fall easy prey to what my first editor called "Yoda-speak." Write better will I try...

**When reading someone else's writings, who shall remain nameless, I have noticed a consistant "you/your" mix up in the more *ahem* intense scenes. :)**

Tsavo Leone said...

It's at moments like this one reaches for the thesaurus, racks one's brains for new and interesting ways of saying what's already been said a million times before, and hopes that their fingers don't slip in the typing and their eyes don't miss out on the obvious when proof-reading.

The problem with all of this is that we stand a serious chance of appearing too artsy or pretentious when it comes to our wrok being read by a lay person (they do exist, or so I'm led to believe: people who read but don't actually write).

I'm curious though as to how much of this is all driven by our our artistic desire to create the best work we can, and how much of it is driven by the guy at the meat packing plant we call The Publishers?

(Sorry, being a bit cynical there).

Anonymous said...

Savannah: Occasionally a typist's fingers slip in throes of literary intensity. Granted, repeatedly in this case, or so it would seem... *g*

Bernita said...

Hummph, Erik. I haven't noticed any particular screaming problem with your posts - other than the fact you seem a little formal and stiff at times.
Don't be so damned diffident about your ability.

Ah, the dermal challenge, Savannah. Frustrating.
One doesn't want to use too many unusual words, either, because they just underline the problem of a lack of suitable synonyms, not solve it. A bugger, I agree. Sometimes the search for an alternate word can hold up one longer than a hole in a plot.
"You, your?" How?
I'm beginning to notice a certain internet corruption involving "its/it's; your/you're." I never used to make that mistake.Not one of my sins. I know the difference between a contraction and a possessive. Had it well beaten into me.
But seeing it used wrongly so many times, or else being in a kind of haste by keyboard, I've found it's beginning to over-write my automatic choice. Now I have to watch for it.

Savannah Jordan said...

The you/your... Not sure how much more I should say on that point. But, I can say their skills have greatly improved since that first piece. :)

jason evans said...

I'm a big "that" user. I trim what I can on rewrites, but sometimes a "that" here and there is necessary. Also, I KEEP them in dialog, because folks talk differently than crisp narrative.

Bernita, I slip in some past perfects too. Sometimes, the simple past tense is just plain misleading or confusing. I agree, though, with trying to keep them out as much as I can.

Let's see. What else? Hmmm. Well, my first drafts have too much description and clumsy sentences. On her blog, Rachel did a great post on writers versus storytellers. I am definitely more of a writer. I obsess about the words--their sound, their cadence, their musicality. Storytellers focus more on story delivery. They mesmerize the reader with the action. The actual words take on less importance.

Bernita said...

Singular and plural antecedent.
Some errors surface on blog posts but never, ever in actual ms.
And that's a good point.Fight the academic style on one hand. Grammar/word choice tends to alter and relax; but, on the other hand, the publisher's door is the one we need the key to.

Bernita said...

A curse, isn't it, Jason?
I find I tend to focus on the associations a word has - or has in my experience, as well as the music and rhythm.
I probably tend to over-do alliteration. A result, again, of reading too much Anglo-Saxon as an impressionable age.

Gabriele C. said...

In English non fiction and also in blog posts, I tend to write long sentences; and sometimes I slip into German syntax (not to mention a predilection for parentheses).

In ficiton, after I've lost my initial innocence, I write so slowly and think so much about the perfect word, the perfect sentence that I don't have any problems. Except picking the correct word, sometimes.

And I'm not overly fond of English comma rules, they're the opposite of the German ones. :-)

Ric said...

"that" "just" used almost like a pause in putting the sentence on paper.
Most tense problems can be wiped out with a little editing.
It's really scary to hit the button to 'find' every instance of 'that' - it rolls into the the hundreds.
I, unfortunately, am of the generation that missed the diagramming of sentences. A degree in English and I never was taught.

Bernita said...

I understand the comma rules are in constant flux, Gabriele.
And an academic, non-fiction background does put one at a certain disadvantage, with today's desire for the short and snappy, the "lots of white" on the pages.
The training is to coalesce sentences into paragraphs dealing with aspects of a specific nature/topic.
I find I'm going through hitting "enter" a lot.

They should have taught you the basics in grade school, Ric. At least that's where I was hammered with them.
"That" is a basic, functional, useful often necessary word for subordinate clauses and phrases. To me the problem is when one uses "that" instead of the appropriate "who" or "which."

Gabriele C. said...

Bernita, it isn't that difficult for me to write good fiction - in fact, I think my fiction is a lot better than my blog entries. The only problem is that it's a slow process because I think so much about what I do.

Bernita said...

Gabriele, I did not intend to suggest otherwise. If it read that way, I apologize.
All I meant to convey was that the structures approved and recommended in non-fiction have the habit of intruding.I was only speaking of my own experience.
I think everyone's fiction is superior to their blog entries and comments.

Shesawriter said...

Mine is "that," "just" and "then." It's like these words are hard-wired inside my head and they won't go away.

Tanya

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh, I use all of the above and then some! LOL I think there have been times when I've even invented a new writing disfunction! LOL

But, I find that if I try to avoid all of these grammatical blunders the first time through, it stunts my growth....not that I couldn't use to loose a few pounds..LOL.

On each sucessive rewrite, I blow out the buggers...

Bernita, I don't say it enough, but I love those cartoons...and I look forward to the lastest, oldest definitions of words...they're a hoot!

Bernita said...

Tanya, they seem to be hard-wired into a lot of heads!
I have to slap my hands to keep from using "just" and "then" too often.

I don't worry about them too much in rough draft either, Bonnie, but try to delete later.
Just reading some of the confessions here, I think,"oh crap, I bet I do that too."
Thank you, Bonnie. You always put a glow on my day and everyone's day.

Dennie McDonald said...

(sorry a little late chiming in here - computer problems...)

When I write - I just get through it then go back over to edit - I have a friend that practicallt edits each paragraph - no joke - as she writes it - she's been working on the same book for at least two years - but I digress... I recently posted a chapter I was working on to a critique group and recieved a three page response the least of which was instructing me to take a grammer class and but a really good book - *sigh* screw the story and plot - just make sure I have all the frigging commas in the right place - I haven't posted again since then...

Dennie McDonald said...

sheesh - that would be BUY a good book - maybe a good proof-reader for hire too would't hurt!

Lisa Hunter said...

Bernita,
You're a good writer and I know you want to publish a novel, but have you considered that your next book might be a collection of these wonderful clotheshanger drawings? Compile them with a snappy title, like "Nothing to Wear" or somesuch, and I bet you'd have a winner. I'd buy that over the dozens of tiny books Barnes & Noble stocks next to the check-out counters.

ivan said...

I second that.

Bernita said...

Everyone has different styles and methods of working I suppose, but HAH, Dennie, you have sold a book, so you're entitled to a quiet "nyah, nyah" to the comma miners.

Thank you, Lisa! Ivan!
It never occured to me.
And I don't have a clue how one would proceed.
I have assumed such books are only contracted after the artist has a publication run in a newspaper comic strip, etc.
Like Giles, MacPherson, Donato, etc.

ivan said...

You're part right, Bernita. Look around the small weekly newspapers
in your area. There are lots of them, the ones sent to you free, the ads covering the cost. Put a little portfolio together. Bug the editors. You'll only get ten or twenty dollars per submission, but it'll be something. I'm sure the Kingston-Whig Standard owns one or two of these little guys. Very often, somebody like the Standard buys up the little guy and then you might just be in.
I personally know a couple of soft cover art and cartoon publishers, but they are starving, but probably because their work isn't as sharp and pointed as yours. Your market is all around you. Have a good look.
Ideally, of course, you'd want the New Yorker, but that's a different kettle of fish, requiring and agent and all.