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The Devil is in the Details–3 Ways to Make Your Writing Shine

 

Years ago, I left my career in sales. Why? Well, I was quite possibly the worst salesperson on the planet, so I figured most any other job would be a vast improvement. I loved writing and decided to pursue my passion. I actually got my start as a copy editor, and years of proofreading and editing have given me a different set of eyes that detect details often unseen by the rest of the world.

Wait. Let me clarify.

Just because something is unseen, in no way means it has gone unnoticed. To the untrained, small mistakes can collect in the subconscious. A reader might put a book down and never know exactly why she couldn’t get engaged, or why she felt the text was too confusing, or why she simply just gave up.

Well, as they say, the devil is in the details.

These days I spend a lot of time focusing on the big picture–structure. Why? Structure is where most writers need training. High school and college English does NOT train us how to write a work spanning 60-100,000 words. Don’t believe me? How many novels did you turn in for a grade in college English? Exactly.

Knowing something in theory is a heck of a lot different than the actual execution. Even though I prefer to talk about big picture stuff, today we are going to zoom in and have a refresher on the small stuff.

Years ago, when I ran a traditional critique group, I would see the same mistakes over and over and, yeah, over. These oopses won’t keep us from being published (especially nowadays), but they can be highly distracting for readers. If left uncorrected, our story could become a projectile hurled with great force by a frustrated reader.

I saw these mistakes so many times in critique, I finally made a list and called them my Deadly Sins of Writing. The Deadly Sins are often the first professional hurdle for writers who want to up their game and play with the big boys and girls of fiction. Why? Because formal English classes (high school and college), are there to teach command of the English language, not prepare us for publication in NY.

I’m in no way picking on teachers. It is incumbent upon any writer to learn her craft. To believe college English constitutes proper schooling for commercial fiction is like saying Home Economics is proper training to become a premiere chef. Yet, many new writers believe that because they made good grades in English, they know how to write (Yeah, I’ll confess. I was one of them).

So after a couple of years critiquing fiction, I began to notice a pattern of common errors. These flubs were so distracting that I often found I couldn’t even GET to critiquing plot, character, or voice. Thus, I wrote out my Deadly Sins as a reference. I believe that if a writer can eradicate most or all of these types of errors, then he will leave the reader with a clearer view of the story.

Today we are only going to go over three. Why? Because most of us haven’t had formal grammar since that awful experience with sentence diagramming back in the eighth grade. And while I could just list the Sins, I believe it will be more helpful if you understand WHY these errors can be so detrimental to even the best of stories.

Deadly Sin #1

Was Clusters— There is nothing wrong with using being verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, —Remember them?). But, they do tend to have a nasty habit of flocking together. A couple of being verbs are all right. But, if there are 42 on one page? You might have a problem…or an infestation.

Was often acts as a screaming beacon directing me, the editor, to places where the writing could be tightened. Was can also lead you, the writer, into dangerous passive voice waters so beware.

The door was kicked in by the officers. (Passive)

The officers kicked in the door. (Active)

Passive voice will confuse a reader, so make sure your writing is as active as possible.

Deadly Sin #2

Overuse of “ing” Whether as Gerunds or Participles—First, a quick review for those of us who have slept since our last grammar class. A gerund is a verb used as a noun—i.e. reading glasses. Participles are often used with a helping verb to show progression (also called progressive verbs)—i.e. I am walking to the car.

***I have left Point A and have not quite reached Point B. Therefore the action is in progress, ergo the term progressive.

There is nothing wrong with using either, but like was, these critters also tend to cluster together. When they do so, they tend to:

a. Create a monotonous pattern

b. Signal places the writing could be made more active.

Joe was walking to the car while smoking a cigarette and thinking about his day. He was wondering if it was all worth the effort. Tired, he pulled out a set of reading glasses. He was scanning the Dear John letter one last time before driving home when a car came barreling out of nowhere heading straight for him.

Don’t laugh. I have seen more than my fair share of similar passages. Technically, nothing is incorrect. Yet, the pattern of ing ing ing ing ing creates a monotony that can diminish the literary effect.

Deadly Sin #3

Modifier overload.  Ever heard the term less is more? The same holds true in writing. Why? WHEN YOU MODIFY EVERYTHING YOU MODIFY NOTHING (Yes, I was being a smarty pants with the all caps). The reader can get so bogged down in lovely similes and metaphors that he forgets the original point of the story, and that is bad.

Have you ever been to a lecture where the speaker’s voice is flat, and nothing is emphasized? Think of Ben Stein, the guy who does the eye drop commercials.

Monotone.

Now think of Billy Mays, the guy who made Oxy Clean famous. HE STRESSED ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING!!!! By the end of the commercial, the audience needed a nap…or a drink.

Again, monotone.

Modifiers can make beautiful writing that transports us and makes us part of an entirely different world.

Or…

It can make us feel like we’re trapped in that nightmare where we never really graduated high school, and have been forced to repeat Sophomore-Level English if we want our college degree to be valid. Jane Eyre. Enough said.

Just remember some simple rules of thumb. Adverbs are almost always a no-no. Why use window dressing on an inferior verb if there is a superior verb that can take its place?

He walked quickly across the room.

He strode across the room.

She jumped quickly. Hmm….as opposed to jumping slowly?

Are all adverbs evil? No. Just the redundant ones. If we want to denote a quality that is NOT inherent in the verb’s definition, then adverbs can be wonderful.

She whispered conspiratorially.

As far as adjectives, similes, and metaphors? Use good judgment. Don’t be the Oxy Clean guy. Have a fellow writer look at your work and see which ones might be weakening your story. Or, take a highlighter and strike through all the modifiers, and see how many there are, and how many can go. Heck, if they are really good, you can use them later. I promise.

Grammar is not a whole lot of fun for most people, but it is necessary to understand it as part of understanding the craft. And you are going to make mistakes. These lessons are a critical part of learning. Good writing comes from wisdom, and wisdom comes from experience. Experience comes from writing some real crap. Sloppy technique, bad grammar, and poor sentence construction can cling to your writing like a dirty film that obscures story and characters. Clean up your writing so your stories can shine.

What are some of your pet peeves? What will make you toss a book across the room? Do you love a lot of detail or very little detail? Why?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

Last Week’s Winner–Paul Anthony Shortt

Please send 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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    • Terrell Mims on August 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm
    • Reply

    Wow! This is a refresher. It reminds me of the days of fetal positions and purple lightning tornadoes. Time sure does fly.

    Thanks for the blog. Personally, it made me chuckle because I was guilty of all of them.

  1. I have a love hate relationship with Strunk & White. Probably more hate. Learning usage from you would be like grammar training from Obi-Lamb Kenobi which I’ve decided might have to be your new moniker.

    1. Loving the “Obi-Lamb!”

  2. I just want to say thank you for pointing out adverbs are not, as a rule, evil. I try my hardest to keep an eye on all your sins, though the “ing” and “was” are two of my biggest sins that have to be reworded in edits. The only sin that should be on your list and isn’t is “said” tags. 😀

    1. That actually is on the list. The list is longer, but I only talked about three today. Trying to write shorter blogs and it is KILLING ME! 😀

        • Linda Thomsen on August 9, 2011 at 8:57 am
        • Reply

        Please have mercy on an “aspiring author” — tell me, Obi-Lamb, where I might find your “long list” of writing sins. In my on-going search for truth and honour, have come to realise there are many kinds of sin in the world (chocolate mousse when dieting, running a red light when driving, forgetting your mom’s birthday … ah yes, the list is endless). Oh yes, and helping endange your life with this request. You DID say trying to write shorter blogs was “killing you” …
        Yet perhaps guiding a “lonely wanderer in the mists of archaic lore” of writing may count as a valiant deed, thus cancelling out any lurking danger.
        What say you, Wise Woman of the Word?

  3. She was laughing at all the mistakes she was making! At least this time she laughed.

  4. My pet peeve is show-offy writers whose style is annoyingly precious. I don’t want or need to feel the narrator’s heavy hand showing me what a GREAT writer they are.

    I like a good story, well-told, with economy of language. A great writer doesn’t need to bury us with words if the words chosen are the right ones and are able to quickly and sensitively convey mood. See: Graham Greene.

      • Christine Carmichael on August 8, 2011 at 3:13 pm
      • Reply

      I agree 100%. Recently I read what could have been a fabulous fantasy by a new writer. But what threw me out of the tale again and again was how the writer inserted herself between the main protagonist and the reader.

      If only an editor had taken her aside and gently reminded her to please tell the story. There was too much detail of what was her day job. I realise she’s highly intelligent, clever and creative, but I was reminded of the fact constantly through the story and it ruined it for me.

      The tragedy is, without self indulgence, the book would have been a massive hit, imho. I do wonder if it was a case of perhaps too much detail.

      1. Ditto. I agree 100%.

  5. So funny you wrote about this, Kristen. I was emailing with a writer friend just this morning, about this very thing. It seems we’ve spent years on the bones and muscle of a novel – POV, sagging middles, backstory…

    And you think you’re done. But then comes the next layer; the details you pointed out and more – showing character traits in thought, movement, dialog. Nuances.

    Nuances are everything, aren’t they?

  6. This needs to be mentioned over and over because for some reason, many of the new breed of Indy writers simply don’t believe it. I started a firestorm over this very subject when I brought it up on the Amazon threads some months ago. I’m happy to see that you and others are broaching the subject anew. I believe that if we bring everyone’s writing up, all of as will be elevated.

    1. I caused trouble on an online critique group for mentioning adverbs were a no-no. OMG there was all kinds of emails about how that is an old rule, and they are indie writers and can write how they want, and I shouldn’t blindly follow ‘the experts’. I left shortly after that.

      1. Yes, but not following rules is why a lot of them are indie. Certain rules make better writing. And I am not saying indie writers are bad writers. I am an indie author. But, there are a lot of writers who believe the rules don’t apply to them, so they don’t make the traditional cut. So they go indie, instead of understanding why the rules make cleaner writing. They self-pub…but then don’t sell any books. The reason is that sloppy writing will frustrate readers. It takes a pretty amazing story to overcome writing rife with mistakes that bog down the prose.

        The long and short of it? To argue with a fool makes two fools, LOL.

        1. I’m an indie author too and I want to be taken seriously AND have great books. I find it very discouraging when I do buy an indie authors book and see all of these rules broken.
          I am very very thankful for my critique group and editor for finding all my mistakes so I can put out a great book.
          It’s true- never argue with a fool or people will see two fools 🙂

      2. I’ve had similar problems in my writing group. The problem is a lot of new writers see the rules as this rigid structure that hinders there creativity. I’ve also seen people swing the opposite way and and tell you not use adverbs at all.In writing as in cooking, a little goes a long way. 🙂

        1. Very true- I’ve talked with people who are so ridged there is only ONE WAY to write. Felxability is good, needed and allows for creativity and self expression. But still kill as many ly words as you can when you edit. 🙂

    • Katje on August 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm
    • Reply

    This is fantastic! Thank you for explaining your Deadly Sins; they’ll be a great help to me and other writers like me. 🙂

    (Of course, now I must frantically flip through my book, searching for the sins so I can rip them out and set them on fire. Or something like that.)

  7. Great advice- I’m going to add it to my editing list. Okay so I do have a per peeve, but i has nothing to do with grammar- it’s nicknames- I hate nicknames esp. when they happen in the middle of the story and a character just suddenly calls another character a shortened version of their name. I’ve frequently thought it was a typo, or was confused as to who they were talking to!
    Alica

    1. Arrgh, invented nicknames! This drove me INSANE when I read the 4th Twilight book, where suddenly, out of nowhere, the entire Cullen clan had a set of nicknames that no one had ever heard in the previous three books. Now there’s something that almost made me pitch the book across the room.

      1. Yes! And when they called Jacob- Jake- really Jake is SO much easier to say then Jacob?? I like the name Jacob leave it alone.

  8. Kristen! I thank you from the bottom of my britches for this post. I am in the process of raking over the first part of my work in progress (only because there is no second part.. yet).
    I did go through and replace adverbs with strong verbs. Voila! My writing pops! (is that even possible?)
    Ha.
    Well, enjoy the rest of your Monday.

    Thanks again. 😀

    Darlene

    P.S. What is this about “said tags”.. Elizabeth?

    • aliceakemp on August 8, 2011 at 2:34 pm
    • Reply

    My pet peeve is dialogue without tags such that the reader loses track of who is speaking. And I’ve learned that “said” and maybe “asked” are the only tags needed. ??

    • Tamara LeBlanc on August 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm
    • Reply

    I’m struggling through my WIP today and as always, when I’m having trouble, I revert to bad habits. I re-wrote a few sentences trying to get rid of those extra Gerunds, participles and was clusters you mentioned, but I know I’ll have to scan through the scene a few more times to filter out the ones I missed. And I’m sure I missed quite a few.
    Grrr.
    In swimming, when I get tired in practice or even in a race, the worst thing I can do is revert to bad technique. I’ll end up dragging, working harder than I need to and losing forward momentum.
    Whe it comes to my WIP the same rules apply. If I find myself burnt out and uninspired, not only should I push through the wall, but I should always remember good form- tight, sharp and technically correct writing that moves my story forward.
    I’m crossing my fingers my muse and a grammar fairy or two will visit me at some point today. I hate slowing down.
    I always appreciate your lessons and look forward to reading the rest of your Deadly Sins.
    Have a wonderful week!
    Tamara

  9. I’ve been terrified if adverbs ever since attending a workshop taught by Gregory Frost in Philly. He put the fear of God in me, that’s for sure!

    My biggest pet peeves are not grammatical so much as pace and character -atical. I get annoyed when a story moves so fast I don’t have a chance to get settled. And Mary Jane heroines (the ones who always make the right decision & have no flaws) make me want to throw books across the room. =P

  10. Using this as a hand-out to my Comp 101 Classes in the Fall. Thank you, Queen.

    Hey, if I get my students to comment on your blog and tell you how many times I mention your name in class, will that win me anything? Like one of your fingernail clippings?

    Just curious. 😉

    1. LOL, Renee…I want to hear about how far you can push Queen Lambo into your students’ brains. Fingernail clippings…where do you come up with these things? 🙂

  11. I’m always picking on crit partners for the be verbs. was + ing almost always equal passive. It’s the first thing that will draw me from a story. Great post!

  12. This is stuff every writer needs to know. These are all good habits to break because once these sins have littered your fiction, it’s hard to get them out. It’s also easy to fall into a comfortable rhythm of committing these sins. They’re easier than writing well. LOL

    • Christine Carmichael on August 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Kirsten,

    Timely post. I hate repetition in a story, especially repetition of an deeply emotional inner point of view.

    I wish certain authors would realise that I ‘got’ it the first time. I realised the heroine was scared the first time her heart tripped. Then her heart skipped, leapt, jumped, raced, stuttered, fell, or even stopped altogether. By the end of one scene I wondered why the poor thing wasn’t in the emergency room.

    I believe the terminal use of the adverb arises because a great author will use one of such power and quality it’ll bean a reader between the eyes. An inexperienced writer, trying too hard, uses them in an emotionally charged scene like a scattergun, hoping one will hit the spot. The trouble with that, particularly in romance, is unintentional laugh out loud moments for the reader.

    Eyes are another bugbear. They roll along floors, over buildings, leap, jump, whip, hold things and throw daggers too. But the biggie for me is that they gaze constantly into other eyes, or at a person, a thing, the horizon or even at nothing at all. Gaze should be outlawed in romance imho because its got to the point where I’ll stop reading if the word is overused.

    Er, this is not a rant btw, however I do feel better.

    Christine

    1. ROFL. I have talked about the detachable body parts, too. Good ones. Thanks for ranting sharing. Love it!

  13. Heh. Yeah. Remember those mistakes, boy do I ever. Now I’ve got my fight scenes down to:

    I stuck my knife in his gut. He bleed on me.

    Great post. No, fantastic post.

    Wayne

  14. Haha. Oh so true. I see these all the time in fiction I edit and when I do critiques as conference faculty. And now, I need to go examine my own work in progress to make sure I’m walking the walk as well as talking the talk . . . 🙂

  15. Thank you for this post. It is a great reminder that yes, the details do matter. I agree with Stuart and Alicia above that I find this to be an issue with many Indie writers. I’ll say it: I think it’s laziness to not take the time to polish your work. Some things can be pretty easy to fix, it just takes time. Like the “was” issue. I did a word search and went through all 85,000+ words looking for it. There was a lot of “was” which revealed passive voice. It took time but an easy fix. And oh what an improvement in the writing.
    I have two related peeves – inconsistency and redundancy. I say related because I think both can be fixed through thorough editing. When I see a writer using the same word or phrase over and over, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Or the writer says something in one place then contradicts it later in the book. Yes, readers remember what you said. Both are sloppy (writing and editing).
    Your post is perfect for a Monday of editing. Write, edit, repeat.

  16. I am the gerund queen of all manuscripts. Thanks for the refresher and reminder to scour my revisions for these evil-doers.

  17. My critique partner makes fun of me on occasion (in a very affectionate way) for never using adverbs. She makes comments like “Some shock and awe would be good here. I know you don’t like adverbs, but we do need something…”

  18. I…am…an adverb lover (thus opens the Grammar Therapy session). I remember handing a segment I wrote to my wife once who draw a grape cluster of circles and handed it back to me. All the adverbs. After banging my head on the wall a few times, I learned. Really (grins).

    I cannot wait to see what the other two Deadly Sins are.

    Thanks, Kristen.

    • Danielle on August 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm
    • Reply

    Biggest annoyance is missing or incorrect punctuation. How do manuscripts pass the eyes of copyeditors and publishers with missing periods? I’ve seen missing periods on several occasions – most recently in new titles which worries me – and an error like that drives me up the wall. I spend between $15-$25 for your book and your publisher isn’t spending the money on easy fixes like punctuation and grammar?!?
    If printed books have trouble with grammar and punctuation there is no way I’m going to start using e-books. I’m sure there are many self-published titles (and authors) that could heed the advice of your Deadly Sins!

  19. Gerund phrases are something I had to get a handle on. I started a lot of paragraphs with them and had to go back and fix that. Also an adverb lover, but I’ve toned that down quite a bit. My biggest no-no was exclamation points. My critique partner was a big help in pointing all them.

    It’s amazing how it’s the small details that can make a book look polished or amateur.

    Great post:)

  20. My biggest peeve when reading is too much detail on clothing, elaborate meals, and building descriptions that fill the page but don’t move the story. When a particular historical romance droned on about the layers and layers of petticoats, I stopped reading and did the laundry.

  21. I learned quite a bit from this post. Really good stuff, thank you.

    1. This annoys me too. If it doesn’t move the story along, what purpose does it serve? Yes, description is needed, but it should be incorporated into the story. I skip over huge chunks of text at times thinking “Why didn’t this get cut on edit”?

  22. Good points, Kristen. Even more than these little details, plot issues make me stop reading. If an author has forced something to happen just because he or she needed it to happen, without establishing motive, the story loses credibility with me. I see this often with new writers who contact me for editing services.

  23. An excellent post, Kristen, as usual. One pet peeve that I have is about exclamation points. A romance author that I’ve always loved released a new book not too long ago, and I eagerly picked it up… only to find that she abused exclamation points to such an extent that I had a difficult time making it to the end of the book without wanting to fling it away.

    Poor grammatical editing will always jerk me out of a story (one reason why reading the 4th Twilight book was torture — I was constantly counting mistakes), along with the abuse of gerunds.

    Bookmarking this as a reference for when it’s time to edit my WIP!

  24. The first draft of my first novel had over 3000 wases and weres in its 85K words. I found many of them by scanning for -ING. The process of rewriting sentences with vivid verbs and honing the number (of wases, at least) to a trim 550 took weeks of grueling focus, but my story turned out so much tighter! The homework made for good training, too. Now as I write first drafts, I’m conscious of every being verb I use and make sure it adds to the writing, rather than just letting me get through it as lazily as possible.

    • Maribeth Hickman on August 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, the middle and high school grammar and writing textbooks could sure use your concise, clear and humorous writing style to draw kids to them rather than send them fleeing the torture of learning only abstract and dry writing principles. You are very gifted in making the complex simple and interesting. Eeks—7 “ings” in 2 sentences—I’ll now be on an “ing-free” diet.

  25. Sadly, I’m the master at #3. Lucky for me, my crit partner hacks away at my numerous adjectives and adverbs. One day I’ll catch them on my own, I pray!

    Just found your site today, and just finished reading AYTB this morning and started WANA while watching my daughter ride. I found AYTB to be very motivational while reading through it. When I got to the end I felt empowered. So glad I have WANA to go through right away as I need the step-by-step instructions you have in there.

    Q. Do tags exist in Blogger? If not, do Labels fill the same purpose for search engines?

    Looking forward to continuing to learn through your blog and WANA book!

  26. I love your posts like this because they push me to write stronger. And we DIDN’T get this in high school. Damn you 5 paragraph essay!

  27. Thanks again for the reminders. It’s easy to slip back into nasty habits. As to what I find annoying in books, it’s the overly descriptive narrative. I don’t need to read a long paragraph on what the countryside looks like. Too much, and I lose the thread of the story.

  28. Great Post! I’ve certainly made most of these mistakes in my writing. After reading this post, I’m encouraged! I HAVE made progress after all! 🙂
    What I find annoying is too much back story. Of course, I’ve NEVER been guilt of that! LOL

    1. Diana – I agree with you! I find descriptive narrative to be kind of boring… As I write my WIP, I am leaving a lot of that out. I mean, if I have to describe something, I do, but only if it will be used in the actual story or adds to the scene.

      Four paragraphs on wall color and table placement make me close a book.

      Darlene

    2. I often finding myself skipping pages and paragraphs that are full of extraneous stuff. Lots of decorative scenery and back story annoy me. Just a personal preference.

  29. Excellent reminder of grammar we’ve forgotten. The one thing I’ll take away and use immediately is the knowledge of when it’s okay to use an adverb: to “denote a quality that is NOT inherent in the verb’s definition.”

  30. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Printing this list now. More please! =)

  31. Thank you so much for reminding me of these errors and I look forward to the rest of them!
    Patti

  32. I appreciate the time you took and the manner in which you presented these, Kristen. I very much look forward to the rest of the list of “sins”.

    • JR Tague on August 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you for more advice on adverbs. I’m learning to cut down on them, and this post really helped me understand which ones are keepers.

  33. Very helpful! Thanks, Kristen! 🙂

  34. My pet peeve is use of the “could” filter. Could smell, could taste, could hear. Unless it’s supposed to be a surprise or revelation ( She could finally see the ocean ), it just puts too much.distance between the reader and the character.

  35. Thanks for the helpful reminders. My default is passive writing. I know I always address it on edit, although I’m aware I’m doing it. If I stop to tighten it while creating the story, I lose my “big picture”. I guess that’s the #1 thing I’ve learned about my novel writing habits. Editing is my friend, but not while I’m writing the first draft! 🙂

    • Jamie Burton on August 8, 2011 at 8:56 pm
    • Reply

    Well, that blog post was perfectly, extremely, brilliantly written.

  36. As always, great reminders for my writing….thank you!

  37. I am in the throes of editing my novel, and this is very timely advice. I will confess to a certain affection for gerunds – and the Killer BEs. Doing a search through my document, it surprised me how many of both were growing like weeds! More power to those authors that understand the rules (old or new) and learn how to use them to their own benefit, and those of the reader!

  38. ‘was’ is a big sin of mine. I might hightlight them all after reading this and see just how many I’ve got 🙂

  39. I always love your posts, Kristen…and I have nearly as much fun in the comments. Thanks!

    This “was” abuser is going to go scope out a few pages to see if the problem is under control…

  40. Too much description will have me tossing a book. For example, one famous author describes every freaking plant her protagonist passes when she’s walking through a field. She’s clearly just showing off the fact that she researched plants so thoroughly. Tends to be a crutch for a poor story and leaves me wondering if she was paid by the word. Thanks for a great blog, Kristen.

  41. I needed this post! I know that grammar is a weak point of mine and I am working on getting it all worked out. Every time you seem to post a blog like this one, I notice that I’m committing every sin in the book. Now to look over my work yet again….haha!

  42. Thank you for reviewing these basic, important lessons. One thing I love about being in a critique group is that they call me out on these things. I still fall back into making these mistakes after all these years.

    Some people are so gifted when it comes to descriptions and painting beautiful pictures with words, but I find that too much detracts from the story, and all the effort they put into that lovely writing has the opposite effect from what they intended. I think they need to pick and choose carefully and sprinkle it throughout the story if they want us to keep reading.

  43. I forgot to say that the devil pic is pretty darn scary. LOL!

    • Joanna Aislinn on August 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm
    • Reply

    Pet peeves: dialogue tags like laughed, guffawed, etc; modifying verbs w/an adverb; my biggie: modifying internal dialogue with ‘s/he thought’–Geez! You think?

  44. I think we hear these same things over and over again but still need to be reminded. I’m glad there’s only three deadly sins. I happen to be revising a novel right now and this will come in handy. I think we get into the habit of reading advice like this and thinking it’s for some other schmo when it’s right in our own sentences.

    1. Actually there are way more than three but I try not to have 10,000 word blogs…often :P.

    • jan.stoyanov16@gmail.com on August 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm
    • Reply

    This Blogg has helped me so much and im going out to buy ‘we are not alone’ immediately. The article has made me look at my writing with fresh eyes, Thank you

  45. I love these rules and did a quick search for ‘ing’ in my WIP. I can see that I’m clustering them as you said and it really is monotonous! Time for a little editing… Thanks!

  46. I agree with your list. Writing can always use tightening. Maybe twitter will help in that regard? Might be a good exercise to write 140-character sections, link them together and end up with a novel.

  47. My last crit group session said that I break rule #2 a lot, so I’ve been working on that. I would be curious to see the other sins – I’m sure I’m breaking one or two more :/

  48. Wow! Excellent points. Thanks. Here’s hoping!

    • Mary D. Brown, Ph. D. on August 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm
    • Reply

    From Deadly Sin #2: “A gerund is a verb used as a noun—i.e. reading glasses.”

    Yes and no. Yes, a gerund is a verb used as a noun. But no, “reading glasses” is not an example of a gerund. “Glasses” is a noun; “reading” modifies “glasses” and is therefore adjectival. An adjective formed from a verb (which is what “reading” is in this example) is a gerundive. You can remember this because both words end in “ive.”

    1. You are correct. Doh! *smacks forehead* Bad example. “Smoking endangers your health” probably works better as an example. Smoking is the gerund serving as the Subject.

      Oh, and I still would have circled in red if there were too many ‘ings’, regardless what part of speech :D.

    • LJ on August 9, 2011 at 11:21 pm
    • Reply

    These are great tips! Thanks so much. I’m saving this post to keep me on my toes, right after I go and do a find on all of my ing’s and being verbs.

  49. I love this blog. Kirsten, you are doing a great service to all those who want to polish their work. Can’t wait to read about the other deadly sins.

  50. Thanks Kristen. A great post as always. I have post stick notes everywhere in my office reminding me of these rules. It’s always good to be pulled back down to earth when my writing starts to run away from me!

  51. Dude. Awesome sauce.

    “When you modify everything, you modify nothing.”

    This actually helped me see the reverse. The Giggers get onto me for harping on adverbs all the time, so I probably needed to realize that a lone adverb out in the middle of New Mexico gets all the mileage he can handle.

    Thanks

    • Courtney Leigh on August 12, 2011 at 1:51 am
    • Reply

    I think I have a tendency to do Deadly Sin #2. Yikes! But I like how you ended this post, reminding us that we got to get through the crappy writing and the inexperienced writing before we get to the glorious writing. I have to keep telling myself that.

  52. Deadly sin #1 is one of my pet hates. I know that I cluster the ‘was’s’ and it drives me mental when editing. In fact – I’m editing now, and out of 90,000 words – a grand total of them is the word ‘was’. Grrrr. Anyway – I have actually passed this blog piece out to my critique group, because I think that these three sins are something that we all need to be aware of in each others writing, as well as our own.
    And yes, I am definitely thinking about writing a blog piece, and incorporating yours into it!! Watch this space. All the best – thank you for the awesome advice. Would absolutely love to learn the rest of your Deadly Sins list as well!! Perhaps you should turn this into a Deadly Sins series.
    All the best! Keep up the awesomesauce work.

  53. A much-needed reminder as I begin fleshing out the current ms. Will be watching for all of the above. Thanks!

    Tori Scott

  54. Id love to see more examples of was clusters and how you get rid of them. I’m currently trying to do the same in my own writing.

    1. I can do that next post 😀

    • Dr Anne on February 12, 2016 at 6:39 pm
    • Reply

    Hi, I like this post. I have been writing for over 25 years and as I mostly write short stories and poetry, my work is usually concisely written. However I sometimes fall into the habit of using too many ‘ing’ words, also sentences starting with ‘as’. I look for any passive construction and get rid of most of it, but occasionally it is useful to slow the pace of a scene.
    I also give workshops and judge writing comps and these flaws are apparent in many peoples’ work. I look forward to reading about the other 4 deadly sins.

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