Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication, The AS and -ING of Bad Style
Notes, highlight, thoughts and frustrations from Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 11, SophisticationAs per my previous chapter reviews of this very helpful book on writing, my thoughts are encased with parenthesis. I hope this helps someone out there, besides me.
~~~~~~~~~~One easy way to make your writing seem more sophisticated is to AVOID two stylistic constructions that are common to hack writers, namely:
"Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him."
"As she pulled of her gloves, she turned to face him."
Both the as construction and the -ing construction as used above are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and unambiguously...if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.
Another reason to avoid the as and -ing construction is they can give rise to physical impossibilities. (There is one solution to this problem on page 194, if you care to purchase the book yourself! In fact, page 195 has an example with, then without, the as and -ing constructs. I must say, the latter does read better.)
Another way to keep from looking like an amateur is to avoid the use of cliches (Amen)...When you fall into characterizations like these (a list of common cliches), the result is a cartoon rather than a character.
There is one caveat: in narration, there may be times when you need to use a familiar, pet phrase-yes, a cliche, to summarize a complicated situation. But before going with a cliche, give some thought to the possibility of 'turning it', altering it slightly to render the phrasing less familiar.
In Chapter 5, we warned you to watch out for -ly adverbs when you are writing dialogue. (Stephen King said the same thing in On Writing, if I recall correctly.) But even when you are not writing dialogue, be on the lookout for -ly adverbs, for the sake of sophistication. (The next few paragraphs offer some great suggestions on resolving this problem.)
This approach may be all right for a first draft, but when you self-edit, you can root out these verb-adverb combinations like the weeds they are. (I like that metaphor.)
When you use two words, a weak verb and an adverb, to do the work of one strong verb, you dilute your writing and rob it of its potential power.
A simple departure from conventional comma usage can also lend a modern, sophisticated touch to your fiction-especially your dialogue...This comma usage, if not overdone, conveys remarkably well the way speech actually falls on the ear.
There are a few stylistic devices that are so "tacky" they should be used very sparingly.(I just gave you one, there are three others in the book, one involves sex. Really. It does.)
What is true of sexual details is also true of profanity...profanity has been so overused in the past years that nowadays it's more a sign of a small vocabulary. (A great, humorous example follows.)
The surest sign that you are achieving literary sophistication is when your writing begins to seem effortless, not that it will be effortless, of course.
The goal of all this careful, conscious work is to produce a novel or short story collection as though there no hard labor were involved in producing it. Fred Astaire worked tirelessly to make dancing look like the easiest, most natural thing in the world. And that is what you are tying for.
Please, stay off the damn walls. I just painted.
B Y Rogers
The Iron Writer