Friday, June 23, 2006

The Point of No Return


(1) Sound effects.
(2) Repetition.
(3) Sentence fragments.
Dear me.
Who would have thought?
It has been brought to my attention - rather forcefully - that the three items listed above may not entrance some editors.
May infuriate them, in fact.
To the point where the odd instance of the verb " to be" also came in for the zot stick.
My bad.
My cherished prose - annilated.
Let's look at each.

Sound effects can be entirely irritating - if overused.
Biff. Bang. Pow.
I'm not writing children's books - or comics - where they may be allowable.
Neither am I L.E.Modesitt, Jr., who uses sound effects extensively - which use, I might add, sometimes annoys even me, though I am a fan of his stories.
The point here being what a published writer may do with abandon does not necessarily excuse a similar use by a new writer.
Think I use sound effects precisely twice in 76,000 words. Not a significant or habitual problem then.
Shrug.

Repetition.
Nothing annoys me more than accidental, purposeless repetition. I hate it. I watch for it.
Imagine my horror and shame to find:
"...the small of his back.The man's head jerked back....and reared backward." - all in the space of three lines.
Very bad.
However, I am fond of deliberate repetition for emphasis and effect, as in:
"...a thousand burning villages, a thousand flaming cities."
Deliberate repetition is an accepted literary device. Also, a question of taste and style. Sometimes appropriate to add a dimension, an association, to a particular scene.
Note to self: Don't get carried away. Not everyone recognizes historical context and fleeting atmospherics. In fact, in an exclusive scene, they have no reason or context or build-up to do so.

Sentence fragments.
Again, now, an acceptable structure if used deliberately and consciously - not carlessly or accidentally.
One can tell easily which is the case.
"Shouts. Clatter. Tumult. Affright."
No, that is not sloppy writing. Clearly deliberate, even if the choice annoys.
Again, as much a question of subjective taste, though clearly tiresome if over-used.

Question to self: Are these damning devices prevalent throughout the WIP?
Are they frequent enough to turn any unsuspecting editor's crank? Over-used? Do they spread out from the close third POV scene and infest the rest of writing?
Answer: Well, no, they do not.

A cautionary tale, nevertheless.

26 comments:

M.E Ellis said...

I'm a fragment Queen. Love them, write them one hell of a lot. My second book was quite literally full of them. On editing, I had to make some of the sentences flow, for fear of bugging the tits off potential readers. It does work better, the new version. But I still got to keep the majority of them because the MC is crazy, and fragments were him.

Depends on the editor, I think. Either you float their boat or you don't.

I'm sticking to my own voice. It's what makes me who I am, afterall.

:o)

Bernita said...

I seriously love them too, ME - and, even more, I love to read them.
They add PUNCH.

Flood said...

All these things are ok if used well. Irving and Vonnegut have used sound effects. Repetition can be good in a moving scene. Frags can be good in action or confusion. There's a time for everything, right?

I admire your courage with the CC. You are very classy, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Flood.
I did not enjoy having my face pushed in.
Balance lies somewhere between the extremes of the two.
I am reminded though, that the best meat is in the hind quarters.

Dennie McDonald said...

I've said this before - but it's all about your style, if that's the way you write, your voice - and you never know what one editor (or contest judge) absolutely hates, and another editor snaps up and signs a contract for...

Bernita said...

Certainly is, Dennie.
One thing about querying, the negatives are private.
Live and learn.

Robyn said...

As a reader, I still think it's an 'in the execution' thing. Rules go out the window if the story is told well enough. Fragments and sound effects, if used judiciously, can keep me up way past bedtime.

S. W. Vaughn said...

I'm with you on the repetition. Hate the accidental ones (I practice seek-and-destroy for those on my editing rounds), love the skillful use of the purposeful ones. Repetition--and sentence fragments--move me as a reader.

However, as I found out with my first series novel, sometimes fragments can be overdone and induce a sense of melodrama. I didn't see that in your work... but once someone pointed it out to me, I sure as hell saw it in mine (though at first it stung to even think about it).

I'm now eternally grateful to have that flaw caught BEFORE my work circulates too widely. A narrow escape. :-)

James Goodman said...

I'm actually a big fan of fragments and I also (though rarely)use sound effects. Like:

“John needs some new shoes for basketball.” She allowed her voice to take on a softer tone, but he could sense it was a struggle.

“Oh, yeah. I guess the season is about to start pretty soon, huh?” Tom thought she just wanted to let him know so he could see some of the games.

“The shoes he wants are over a hundred dollars,” she continued without acknowledging him.

“Well, you ought to be able to afford it with what I am paying you in child support. I say, let him have them.” Tom laughed, still not catching the hint.

“Look, things are a little tight this month. Do you think you could buy them for him?”
“What? Things are a little tight? Welcome to my world. That bloodsucking lawyer of yours--” Tom began to rant.

Click.

Tom pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it, dumbfounded. He took a deep breath, then another for good measure before redialing the number.

“So what…I have to pay you to see my kids now?” he spat through clenched teeth.
Click.

He was absolutely livid at that point, letting out a stream of expletives that would make a sailor blush. He kicked the coffee table, flipping it over. He stormed into the kitchen and reached for a bottle of Jack. His hand froze on the cabinet handle as he caught sight of the picture of his son and daughter stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet.

“She’s not worth my sanity,” Tom muttered as he went back to the living room to clean up his mess.

kmfrontain said...

I use fragments a lot, because they work. Love purposeful repitition, agree with everyone that editing for accidental ones are a must, and occasionally use a 'Batman' kerpow for effect.

And that was a good example, Tom. :D

Bernita said...

Yes, KM, James's use was effective.
Succinct.
Why include something like "He heard the dial-tone" when that one word does it all?
A perfect use of sound effect, James, IMHO.

Thank you,SW. It's the melodrama charge that actually worries me the most, as that's something I try to avoid in the "execution" as Robyn pointed out..

Bonnie Calhoun said...

First let me say, I applaud your submission. Making Miss Snark want to set her hair on fire was enough for me...But maybe now I might, maybe will get the courage :-)

I don't use sound effects...but I do use a lot of sentence fragments, and deliberate repetitions. This is your voice.

Don't let anyone mess with your voice!

Bernita said...

Eh, Bonnie, the courage you found must be mine, because I've lost it for this sort of thing.

jason evans said...

Sentence fragments are necessary in third person limited POV. Also, first person POV.

We don't stroll around thinking in tidy, grammatical sentences. We have observations. We make them. We move on. Fragments add tightness and immediacy.

I've found that exclusive use of fuller sentence structure builds distance and feels stilted.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Nah, you haven't....it takes a thick skin to wind up being published.

There are a whole bunch of people above us, where we are going to have to fit their expectations at some time.

My girlfriend got a contract...and then....edits that made her cry for days on end! They ripped her a new one! So we might as well get used to it now!

Bernita said...

I strongly agree, Jason.
Well put.
This was a tight third, but that would not be apparent from the extract.
Bad choice of selection over all.

Bernita said...

I have for this sort of Ground Zero effect, my Bonnie.
My skin is quite tough enough, however, for the usual query/ms rejections and for bad reviews when I have the support of a book on the shelf.

December Quinn said...

Oh, I do love fragments and deliberate repetition.

I love to make a fragment a whole paragraph on its own.

Like this.

I just get such a kick out of emphasizing a particular thought or phrase that way.

Maybe it's sloppy, and a cheap device, but I do love it (although I try to keep it to a minimum.)

Shesawriter said...

Everything done in moderation is fine. I mean, I do the fragment thingie too, but I try not to go overboard.

Savannah Jordan said...

Well, I use two of those points. No complaints, two book sales and a big publishing company editor waiting on another submission from me. I agree with M.E., though, it is all in the symantics of the submission and the submittee. (Is that a word?? Maybe that should be another point to ponder, 'creating your own words'...) :P

Bernita said...

New or vivid phrases seem to work better than words, Savannah - thinking of Dune and the famous "fear is the mind-killer" example.

Perfectly acceptable, December. As you say - an emphasis choice. More useful many times than italics or other method.

Agreed, Tanya, should be restricted to the places where it is most effective.

Bhaswati said...

Fragmants are increasingly gaining favour with many writers as well as acceptability from readers. I've found them effective for emphasis and brevity.

But I agree; it's all about moderation and intelligent application.

Bernita said...

~ evil laughter~
They can't stop us now, Bhaswati...

For The Trees said...

What's the deal here? Frag.

Ments are.

Often used to GREAT.

Effect.

I do. You do. Doo Doo.

I'm keeping my novel the way I wrote it. Let the reader decide.

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