An early trap is confusion: At first, we don’t know what to do with commas. Some frustrated authors will decide to do without them altogether.
This decision leads to chaos and an unreadable manuscript.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:
Commas are to clauses what traffic signals are to streets. They govern the flow of traffic, although, in the case of sentences, the traffic is comprised of words, not cars.
- Commas follow introductory words and clauses. Instead, they took a left turn.
- Commas set off “asides.” Her sister, Sara, brought coffee.
- Commas separate words in lists: We bought apples, oranges, and papayas for the salad.
- Commas join two complete sentences, and once joined, they form one longer sentence. When used too freely, linked clauses can create run-on sentences.
- Commas frequently precede conjunctions, but only when linking complete clauses. When connecting a dependent clause to a complete clause, don’t insert a comma. “I intended to go back to London but found myself here instead.”
If you are deliberate in your use of conjunctions, em dashes, and hyphens, you will also use fewer commas. Craft your prose but use grammatical common sense. Brevity usually strengthens prose.
Another trap waiting for the unwary is descriptive TMI – too much information.
Don’t waste words describing every insignificant change of expression and mood. Consider this hot mess of fifty-one words that make no sense:
Eleanor looked at Gerard with concern. His voice changed so much in the telling of the story as his emotions came to the surface that it still seemed so raw, as if Timmy’s death had happened only days ago. In addition, his expressions also changed and his current one was akin to despair.
That waste of ink could be cut down to fourteen (14) words that convey the important parts of the sentence: Gerard’s raw despair concerned Eleanor, seeming as if Timmy’s death had happened only days before.
Using too many words mingled with catchphrases and acronyms to express simple concepts is a common requirement of corporate emails and documents for project managers. If you are coming from that environment, you must learn to write a lean narrative. Readers don’t want fluffy, meaningless prose littered with clichés and obscure words in their literature.
What does “Kill your darlings” really mean? All it means is don’t write self-indulgent drivel.
We all fall in love with our characters. Why make the point that people fall over themselves drooling at the beauty of the protagonist? Why make that point in every other paragraph? Is it that important to the narrative?
If it isn’t important to that scene, don’t include it. Gerard’s handsome visage and grace should be mentioned occasionally, but only where his god-like magnetism and charisma impacts the story.
Really–in real life, how often does that happen? However, if Gerard’s looks and charisma cause trouble wherever he goes, then it becomes a key part of the action and can be used to set up other scenes.
We write because we love words, but simplicity is usually best. Consider this morsel of “yuck.”
Delicious sounds captivated their eardrums.
Please, just say it sounded amazing. If music touches the protagonist’s soul, it’s good to say so.
Odors and sounds are part of the background, the atmosphere of the piece, and while they need to be there, we don’t want them to be obtrusive, in-your-face.
This is an instance of prose working better when it isn’t fancy.
I hope these thoughts help get your writing week started.
Now, go! Write like the wind!