A Luxuriant Breakdown

magnifyingglassLast week, we posted a purposely badly-written creative piece to show some of the issues we regularly encounter in editing. Let’s now break them down …

This has grown so overused, it’s almost become a cliché. ‘Suddenly, this happened.’ It’s such an easy – and melodramatic – way to show urgency.

Think of ways you can communicate suddenness in the writing itself. For example, instead of

    Suddenly, the door opened


    The door crashed open.

This is not to say you can’t ever use ‘suddenly’. Just make sure it’s required.

Just then
This is another version of ‘suddenly’. A lot of the time, you’ll find you can just cut it out entirely. Using the (first) example from ‘Luxuriance’:

    Just then, the phone rang.

This could just read:

    The phone rang.

Again, if you need something to happen ‘just then’, think about how you can express that through the writing itself.

‘However’ has become a cheat, a way to transition from one subject to another without any real logical evolution.

    Today, I am writing a blog. However, the sky is blue.

There’s no logical evolution there, but it sounds like a feasible transition due to the use of ‘however’. Think about how you’re getting from Point A to Point B. There should be a causality in how that happens.

Clichés simply have no meaning any more. If somebody tells you their ‘blood ran cold’, beyond your basic understanding that it’s meant to communicate terror, what does it mean? Think of relatable ways to say things.

Favourite words
We all have our favourite words and phrases. In this piece, it was ‘ominously’. Try to identify your own. Sometimes, a fresh set of eyes (e.g. a workshopping group, an editor) can help you find yours. Once you know of their existence, you’ll find yourself mindful of using them.

Keep it simple. You don’t really need to venture too far away from ‘said’ and ‘asked’. If you do, don’t get too fancy – you never want to use an attributor which is going to make the reader stop and wonder why that word is there.

Useless Modifiers
‘It’s quite hot.’ What does that mean? How much is ‘quite’? Stay away from weak modifiers (e.g. quite, somewhat, practically, basically, virtually).

Make sure your narrative sets up what’s going to follow. Don’t throw in details later just because you’ve forgotten something should’ve been introduced earlier.

One of the best examples of foreshadowing is the movie The Sixth Sense. When the twist comes, we understand everything that we’ve been seeing in a new context. At no point do we feel either cheated or confused.

We need to introduce backstory to drive our narrative. Just be mindful of how far it goes. A good way of identifying exposition is how grounded is it in the current setting? Or do we digress into a shapeless overview of the past? Exposition, at times, is necessary and unavoidable. Just make sure it doesn’t take over.

What tense are you writing in? Stylistically, you might fluctuate from one tense to the other, e.g. you might be writing in past tense, but when something shocking happens, you bring the story into the present tense. There’s a justification in a shift here. But, often, authors flip around unknowingly. Be conscious of the tense you’re in.

Obviously, there’s plenty of other issues to look for in writing, but these are amongst the most popular.

What you’ll find as you grow aware of these issues is you’ll be challenged to find new and innovative waves of expression that avoid all the problems that can make writing so pedestrian.

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