Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Does Being An Author Affect How You Read? Also, I’m Really Picky and I Will Now Suffer You To Hear All About It

The answer to that question is yes. Absolutely, yes.

There are about a zillion ‘pros’ to being an author, including but not limited to inflicting my opinion on the world, naming villains after those who’ve wronged me in the past, and becoming rich and famous (Just kidding! Hehe…) But if there is one con, it would have to be losing the ability to get completely lost in a book. Okay, that, and public speaking *shudder*.

I’m generally a rather picky person, but there has been a definite and noticeable shift since becoming an author in how closely I analyze a book. It’s much harder now to slip into a fictional world and let myself be taken away when I’m so hyperaware of ‘the rules’, and of clichés, and of the writing process in general. Often I find myself thinking, ‘Well, there’s a unique way to insert a character description I’ve never thought of,’ or ‘I would have done it this way’, or ‘Note to self: do not have character release a breath she didn’t realize she was holding’. I could go on, but I think you get the point. An author has to do a REALLY good job in order to impress a fellow author (Or at least me).

(On that topic, I just finished reading Under The Never Sky by Veronica Rossi and it was EFFING FANTASTIC!!! So you all should read it. A review to follow soon.)

But I digress.

One of the things that I’ve learned since becoming an author is to be very careful about starting a sentence using the present participle (-ing) because often times it doesn't make sense, or doesn't convey the meaning the author intended for it to. For example:

‘Brushing my hair, I go downstairs and cook breakfast.’

Terrible example, yes, but I think it serves its purpose. You can’t simultaneously brush your hair and cook breakfast. Or else you can, but it would be difficult and weird and probably dangerous. The problem here is that you can’t begin a phrase using the present participle (that is, with an –ing verb) unless that action happens simultaneously with whatever action happens next in the sentence (unless of course the author were to clarify the timing of the actions by saying ‘after’ at some point).

So while the following sentences DON’T work:

‘Starting the car, I speed down the highway.’ (Because you can’t start the car and speed down the highway at the same time).

‘Kicking off the covers, I get out of bed and take a shower.’ (Because, while you can kick off the covers at the same time as you get out of bed, you can’t take a shower while you do all that).

‘Sucking in a breath, I let out a blood-curdling scream.’ (Because you can’t inhale at the same time as you exhale).

The following sentences DO work:

‘Letting out a blood-curdling scream, I run down the alley.’

‘Running for my life, I begin to question my decision to not exercise all my life.’

‘Kissing Edward, I run my fingers down his arms. His huge, muscly arms.’

See, all those sentences begin with actions, which can simultaneously happen with the rest of the action (s) in the sentence.

Whew! Thank you for bearing with me during that boring talk. I appreciate it.

As you might have guessed, this has become a little pet peeve of mine. It gets in the way of me enjoying an otherwise lovely novel, which is too bad, because I do see this problem quite a bit. Which brings me back to my original point that being an author affects how you read a book. I might never have noticed the present participle issue before.

My critique partner Ruth Lauren Steven has accused my hatred for this style of writing as knowing no bounds. It’s true. Maybe I should relax? But probably not. Probably best I tell as many people as I can about my pet peeve, hope it lessens the amount of books out there containing it, and then get frustrated while reading books that do. YAY to responsible adult decisions!

So how about you, fellow writers? Do you have any pet peeves as a reader?



28 comments:

  1. I totally feel you on this! I'm reading a book right now and keep getting pulled out of it. Things like "That's so telling!" and "She uses that word way too much" and "But you're not supposed to say 'I feel/hear/see!'"

    Then I think about whether the hours I spent editing out the above were worth it.

    Says a present participle offender. (Stiger05 from AW. Hi!)

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    1. Haha! I couldn't agree more to all of the above.

      And hello, fellow AWer! *waves*

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  2. My biggest pet peeve is when an author uses "literally" to mean "figuratively."

    I mean, it's the exact opposite of the word's meaning. How can you get it that wrong? But I've seen so many published authors (one is an agent too) do this exact thing.

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  3. Ha! I love how everyone is reminding me of other things that annoy me. I must get annoyed a lot!

    Glad you're now able to comment on my blog, Sage. I finally figured out how to fix the problem. Only took me like 6 months.

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  4. *hangs head in authorial shame*

    *scours new ms for rotten grammar that will cause Hulk-like rage in lovely critique partner*

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    1. Haha! Don't feel bad, Ruth. There's been a noticeable decrease in the amount of present participle beginning sentences in recent times. Also, I'm a bitch and you should ignore me :D

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  5. I've had similar thoughts when revisiting some books I loved as a preteen, like Lois Lenski's Strawberry Girl, Patricia Clapp's Constance, and Carolyn Heywood's Primrose Day. While in many ways I still prefer the older, slower-paced writing style, when it was more common to directly tell the reader establishing information up-front, there are also things about the older writing styles I now dislike.

    Unnecessary dialogue tags, books without much of a plot, a ridiculous deus ex machina ending in Strawberry Girl, historical liberties taken in Constance to try to make the story more entertaining to a modern audience, unnecessary adverbs (though I'm not as anti-adverb as other people), non-standard speaking verbs when unwarranted, shoving in historical details that don't really add to the storyline, etc.

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    1. Oh, more good points! I agree re: unnecessary dialogue tags and unnecessary adverbs. I don't hate adverbs, but if the verb already depicts the action really well then I don't like to see the adverb in there as well. Like, say, 'He clutched the book protectively against his chest'. I'd say clutched is a strong enough verb to convey the protectiveness without additional words. Things that like.

      Haven't read those books you referenced, but based on your descriptions I'm inclined to agree!

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

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    2. Yes, and the overuse of dialogue tags! That really bothers me too. Worse is the overuse of the SAME dialogue tag. She gasped, he gasped, they gasped, everyone gasped. We get it. Gasping has occured.

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  6. I was just thinking about this today, actually. I was reading a book by an author I only know about from AW and silently critiquing it in my head the whole time. Not so much grammar as sentences & the way they flowed, plot believability, characters, etc. Still, I wish I could just forget about it and enjoy the story.

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    1. I know, right? Another reason to read Under the Never Sky--you won't have that problem. Trust me!

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  7. I agree that unnecessary dialogue tags bother me. Once I notice that pattern in a book, I can't stop looking for them and it takes me out of the story.

    I also really dislike it when an author overuses the same word throughout the book, particularly when they're very close together and/or when the word is very strong and noticeable. That also takes me out of the story.

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    1. YES! Overused words that are standoutish definitely can pull me out of a book. And the list of things that annoys me grows longer...

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  8. I've been doing this a lot more lately too and it gets annoying. I catch the participle thing. Also incorrect use of dialogue tags. Overuse of participle phrases and fragments--which may be more a stylistic issue.

    I never thought of any of this before.

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    1. Yup, me neither. But if it's bad, it's practically all I can see!

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  9. It bothers me in a book when too many characters are similar or have similar names, and I have to keep flipping back and forth to figure out who's who.

    It also really irritates me to find typos in a book. I recently read a book that had two typos in the same chapter. Actually they were within two paragraphs of each other. How did that get past the author, the agent, the editor, the copy editor, the line editor, etc...

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    1. Oh, you mean like Michael and Michelle, or something like that? Yup, that'd get confusing. I had this issue reading Anna Karenina. The two Alexei's really tripped me up!

      I hope no typos slip past my notice for WHB, but it wouldn't surprise me!

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    2. Exactly. Also, too many names at once is bothersome. If you introduce 10+ characters in one chapter, then I don't have enough time to learn who a character is before I'm bombarded with a slew of new people. Confusing!

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  10. Lack of any subtlety bothers me. I don't need every little interaction explained to me. I can figure out what's going on based on the conversation and descriptions. I do not like like reader hand-holding!!

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  11. What a great post, and the comment thread makes for interesting reading, too. It's enough to make an author shudder and attack their MS with a red marker pen. What are editors doing if they let all of these mistakes slip through the net?

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    1. Lots to think about, for sure!

      And I know I don't envy editors all the responsibility and hard work that goes into making a book perfect!

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  12. Becomming an actor ruined most TV shows and movies for me. Becomming an author did the same thing for book! I've definitely learned to calm down over the years, though. Unless the writing/acting is absolutely unwatchable/unreadable I cut some slack. :)

    PS--sorry for any typos in this comment. I just put eye drops in!

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    1. We can only hope this happens to me!

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  13. Those are all so awkward sounding. And I'm now terribly afraid that each and every one of them is in my manuscript. lol.

    And yes, being a writer sometimes ruins books. I couldn't get through Switched, by Amanda Hockings when I tried. A few years ago I would have enjoyed it.

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    1. Haha! I'm only too happy to make you look over your manuscript for potential offenders.

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  14. Can I just say 'What they all said?'.

    Yeah. That. All that.

    Fun post, Michelle!

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