Do you make these two newbie writing mistakes?

These two writing mistakes which a particular pet peeve of mine. No matter how well everything else is written, these (more often than not) let the whole text down. They both sound too much like “writing” to be good storytelling. Sometimes they sound like bad writing too.

Newbie writing mistake #1: As-abuse

The first newbie mistake is this: The word “as” in the wrong place.

Let me give you an example of this writing mistake.

As John rolled behind the barrel, he stood up and started firing.

No. Just no. There is no way John could both be rolling and standing at the same time. As, in this case, actually means that both things happened at once. This is clearly as-abuse and the word police would like to have a little chat with you.

While we are on the topic of that very weak example of storytelling – “started”! How is this new information? He rolled and then fired – it goes without saying that he started firing.

Of course, what is intended with John was that the two things happened quickly. So fast that it was hard to take a breath.

Here is my suggestion for getting it right.

John rolled behind the barrel. He stood and fired.

See how the text is short and punchy. The two things happen in rapid succession. That’s the short sentences doing heavy lifting for you there.

You could even use some more action oriented words for add punch.

John rolled behind the barrel. He leapt up and fired.

Ah, much better. That feels like a pretty decent action moment.

How to use “as”

As Jane fell, she wondered if dying would hurt

That is how you use as. Falling and wondering happened together. Even so, you could probably write a more emotive scene if that as was shown the door.

Newbie writing mistake #2: doing the thing, she did the other thing.

This as-abuse has a close cousin – doing the thing, she did the other thing. Aah! Please stop that.

Putting on her coat, Lucy walked out of the door.

If you mean that Lucy was still putting on her coat while she walked out of the door then, yes, this is right. But I bet you meant that she put on the coat as a prelude to exiting the building.

Try this

Lucy put on her coat and walked out of the door.

or even

Lucy put on her coat. It looked like it might rain. She took a breath and opened the door. Yeah, rain for sure.

We have the same two actions but now we have character development and a feel for the general environment. With “doing the thing, to do the other thing” you are robbed of that opportunity.

Before you comment

I am sure someone can cite good reasons why both of these newbie mistakes are fine under certain conditions. That is because they are. All writing structures have their place. But it just so happens that for these two the place is on the editing room floor most of the time.

Okay, no go and leave a comment. Tell me that I am wrong if you wish. Agree with me if you like. Or tell me about your pet peeve of over-writing.

Leave a Reply