Tuesday, 3 May 2011

No ifs, ands or buts about it

Do you really care if I start sentences with words like 'and'? Because I'm going to (see what I did there?)

I wrote Fait Accompli however it occurred to me to do it. Before I joined Scrib and learned about the hitherto unknown passive sentence, or the evil that is (hushed whisper) an adverb. Before I fully understood that the full stop goes inside the speech mark when you're writing dialogue. Yes, I know I have an English degree. No, apparently I never picked that up. Yes, I know how stupid that makes me look.

Then I joined Scrib and a whole new understanding of the depth and breadth of my lack of understanding revealed itself to me. I spent twice as long editing FA as I did writing it. 70k words became 58k as I cut redundancy, re-worded passive sentences and waged war on adverbs.

So when I started work on Write Your Name, I was a little better educated. I knew that each speaker's dialogue needed to be 'attached' to their actions. I knew about tags and beats. Paragraphing is still somewhat haphazard, and commas may never be my friend, but, moving swiftly on, I felt like I could attempt to produce something half decent. However, somewhere during the process, I also started to analyse everything I read. Not in the way that I did when I was at University. Not from a lit crit angle. From a I'm-picking-apart-every-sentence-you-write-to-see-how-you-do-it kind of angle.

And I expected to see little to no evidence of 'weak' verbs. None of those adverbs I'd been warned would be the ruination of my lovely writing, and could be deleted if I just chose a stronger verb. No run-on sentences, no passive writing.

I expected not to see full stops after speech marks. Ok, I got that last one. Nobody does that. Seriously, not even six year olds.

BUT (yes, I started a sentence with it, and there's nothing you can do about it - it's my blog!) the books I scrutinised all used the word (shield your eyes if you must) was. I was reading Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong when I first started really looking at what published authors used or didn't use, and let me tell you, Mr Faulks didn't seem adverse. I'm currently reading the second in Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls series (Linger) because I'm on a massive YA kick since last year. She doesn't seem overly bothered either.

Now I know that I'm not in the same league as those authors. I know that in my pre-published state (isn't that a nice way of putting it : ) ) I shouldn't pick and choose which writing 'rules' I flaut. But is it really so terrible if, in telling my new story the way I want to tell it, I use the word was? Can I really not start a sentence with but, or and? When you write, should you worry about rules? (dear God, I just slipped into second person. Am I going to writer hell?) How do you decide?  


  1. While all this is true, writing has changed. Just like movies are now shot in color on digital media, so too are books written differently. People don't like the all knowing narrator as much. People aren't a fan of head hopping anymore. Readers no longer just want a good story; they want to be immersed!

    There is nothing wrong with was, just as there is nothing wrong -ly words:

    Casper was adamantly opposed to being oppressed by the man. She harshly condemned him.

    Absolutely nothing wrong with the above. The reader now knows that Casper is against the system. But this could be expanded. Hell, those two sentences could evolve into a book, really:

    Casper stormed in the room and slammed the door behind her.
    "I'm not taking your crap anymore, Mr. Stevens! I quit!"
    She wiped the spittle from her chin.
    Mr. Stevens gasped and stood up with indignation. "Get back to your cube, Casper. You'll stay there sixty hours a week and love it, just like everyone else."
    "To hell with your cubes! They're pants!"
    "Pants?" Mr. Stevens' head rocked back. "How are my cubes pants?"
    Casper harrumphed. She spun on her heels and left the room.
    "Everyone," Casper said, holding her hands above her head. "I have an announcement."
    Her coworkers put down their tea and crumpets, muted their speakerphones, stopped checking out the hot new intern, and focused their attentions on Casper.
    Casper took a deep breath and smiled. "Damn the man!"

    This is what readers (or at least agents) expect these days unless you are writing for children. JK Rowling made billions from Mr. Potter and there are was's abound. You can use them, but be aware that every time you do, you do so deliberately.

  2. Um, is that how you imagine my workplace? (Though I have been known to partake of a buttered muffin or two whilst there.)

    You'll be seeing my deliberate use of the word was, plus some -ly words whenever I think they're appropriate when I post the WiP on Scrib!

  3. Nooo! Don't do it! They'll crucify you on Scrib like that bearded fella with the crown if you do!

    You have to conform, Casper. You are unique, just like everyone else ;)

  4. Casper was adamantly opposed to being oppressed by the man. She harshly condemned him.

    While there's nothing "wrong" with this statement, it could be so much better, shown through actions instead of told, actively stated instead of passively, if that's what you want.

    That's the point of critiques, is it not? To show you possible alternatives to help make the writing stronger? ::scratches head::

    Nobody can tell you how to write, it's up to you to pick and choose what advice you will follow and which you won't. Maybe state up front on Scrib what you don't want to hear about? :)

  5. Just something I've been pondering Jocelyn. I don't want to discourage any kind of crit that people are kind enough to bestow on me. : )

  6. I solemnly swear to not point out an Waszles or -ly's in Casper's current WiP.

  7. You know it's not going to stop me pointing every single instance out, don't ya? :-)
    **rubs shin** 'Ow, Ruth, that hurt!'
    Ok, I'll leave your adjectives, was's, now's and this's alone. Promise.

  8. I hereby charge all of you to point out any and all instances of idiocy and terrible writing in my WiP!

    Though it might be worth forbidding you, Emma, not to touch my adverbs just to see if your head actually explodes :D

  9. I hereby charge all of you to point out any and all instances of idiocy and terrible writing in my WiP!

    Or, I could tell you not to mention any of my adverbs and see how long it takes for Emma's head to explode ;P Hey, no fair - Blogger broke and deleted Emma's comment!

  10. I mentioned this on our forum discussion, but I think this is all just a sign that you're becoming really comfortable as a writer. You know the 'rules,' and you know what you want for your book, and you're doing what you want. Go Casper!

    I, too. have started to realize that 'was' isn't evil, except when overused. Not all sentences that have 'was' in it are passive either,and I think lots of people don't know that or forgot or something. It's just a clue to help find a lot of passives. Adverbs I'm okay with, so long as there isn't a much better way to say what you want to say without it and the author is just cheating because its easier to tell than show sometimes :P

    All that said, I'm still going to point out whatever I feel like in your crits. Try and stop me, Casper! Muhahahaha!

  11. I wouldn't want it any other way m'dear :)


Please prove you are a robot. I'll be disappointed if you aren't.