Saturday, December 22, 2007

Saturday Slush

Yes, it's Saturday, and not just any Saturday but the Saturday before Christmas, the Saturday leading into the week when the publishing industry is closed. I should be baking, wrapping, shopping, and doing the thousands of other things leading up to The Big Day. Instead I'm holed up for a spell with a bunch of slush submissions because a) the mall parking lot scares me, b) I'm avoiding my mother, who is always nuts for a few days before the holiday, and c) this is what I do. Editors read constantly, even when sanity suggests we should do otherwise.

We're going to be slowing the pace a little on this blog. We started off at a pretty fast clip because we wanted to get some content live so you'd all have things to read and ponder. But we don't want to overwhelm people, and we think the holidays give us a good excuse to settle into a somewhat more sedate rhythm. Just so you all know.

Here's what I'm seeing in the slush today.

Lots of doubled verbs, such as (my example, not taken from any manuscript):
He would--should find a different solution.

Lots of ellipses used to suggest cadence in the prose, such as (again, as always, my example):
The whole thing just made her feel ... tired.

Sentences crammed with verbs and verb forms, such as (again, ditto, ad infinitum):
She slipped, falling, tumbling, clattering down the stairs.

None of these things are technically wrong. All of these things suggest a lack of authorial control over the prose. Or even a lack of confidence. It gives the impression of a writer incapable of choosing the precise term best suited to the moment, who instead loads up on almost-right words (surely one of these will do!) or dressing up the wrong words with punctuation to try to create more impact (a pause! a pause will make it meaningful!).

What these all have in common is that they disrupt, on some level, a normal sentence's cadence. The first example reads like a stutter. The second, like a lost train of thought. The third, like a grocery list of present participles. Sometimes you might want a stutter or a pause or a list. Sometimes these little party tricks, these sleights of hand worked with punctuation and synonyms, will produce exactly the controlled effect you need and are therefore worth the odd way they look on the page. But, as with all party tricks, the fun goes out of them after you've seen them a time or two. Moderation is the key.

Normally these things don't bother me much. But today they're everywhere. I have one submission so full of ellipses it looks like the pages have acne. This is probably not the impression the writer hoped to make.

So why are these things so prevalent all of a sudden? Is someone out there teaching writers to write like this, or is it mere coincidence?



Anonymous said...

Use of elipseseseses (that was suppposed to be funny)

Theresa, I've used the three dots in a dream sequence to indicate the scattered nature of the experience from the POV of the character. Would that bother you? I've been consistent and used in all the dream sequences in the book.

Thanks for the blog. These early entries have been very helpful!


Anonymous said...

Hey There! Thanks for the Saturday post. I too was trying to avoid some of those holiday stress points you mentioned, and found the entry interesting. Okay, truth be known I did waste a few moments trying to think of a charming, witty response that included all those examples, but then decided it wasn't all that funny.
Merry Christmas.

Edittorrent said...

Nancy, we'd probably think it was funny. :) We're sort of nerdy that way!