Sunday, June 10, 2012

Exposing My Writing Weakness - Impossible Simultaneous Action

As writers, none of us are perfect. We all have our little quirks, our Achilles heel, I suppose you could say, of technical stuff we always have to go back and fix once the first draft is written. As newbie writers, its often hard to see what these issues are, and most likely the problems won't be seen until someone points them out to you.
Over the years, working with various people -- my critique partner, several different editors at Noble and now my agent, I've slowly come to know some of my own 'quirks' and can tidy them up before the world at large sees them. However, I'm still learning myself. What I know is just the tip of the iceberg. As the years go on, I'm sure there will be other style/technical issues I'll need to learn to straighten out.
So I thought I'd start sharing my writing issues, giving examples of what they are and how they can be fixed...
Today, we'll be starting with ISA -- Impossible Simultaneous Action.
Sounds complicated already, right?
Instead of explaining, let me write an example:
"Jeff sat up, shoving on his boots and patting down his messy hair." 
Initially you might say, there's nothing wrong with that and I have written many such sentences, still often do when I'm in the writing zone and not thinking about technical mumbo-jumbo. However, if you read the sentence carefully, you'll realize that there's nothing separating the actions. Therefore, technically Jeff is sitting up, putting on his boots and patting his hair all at the same time. And, let's face it, unless Jeff is an octopus, its impossible for him to do that.
In this case, to fix, a few extra words will break things up:
"Jeff sat up and then shoved on his boots, before patting down his messy hair."
This is perhaps not the most eloquent sentence, but you get the idea. Personally I might be inclined to fix it with some addition information, to give more depth:
"Jeff sat up with a groan for his aching head. What the hell did I do last night? He shoved his feet into his boots with more force than necessary and then ran a hand over his hair, grimacing at the tousled mess."
I suppose this kind of bleeds into the whole "showing, not telling" thing. At first, we have a bland sentence about someone getting out of bed, but by the end, using the same base actions, we are given more insight into the character and his situation. With any luck, this will leave the reader wondering "what did he do last night?" and wanting to read on to find out.
Well, it was a short lesson, but that's all I have time for today. I've got revisions to finish and many sentences like this in need of fixing! When I get some time, I'll be tackling some more of my writing quirks, including more about showing, not telling, filter words, use of "that" and "was", and at some stage when I'm feeling really brave, passive writing, which I have constant issues with.


Eleni Konstantine said...

Ah yes, I find these too in my first drafts.

Jess Anastasi said...

They do seem to be a common/easy mistake to make... Its one of the first things I check for in my manuscripts these days!

Incident Report IBC-726A-39

FORMAL INCIDENT REPORT SECTION ONE Incident Date:___ 25 th August 2436 __ Incident Time:___ 22 :30 hours approx ___ Incident...