November 12 post: the participial phrase (-ing verbs) pandemic.

This post has been in my draft folder for a long time. It’s one of the most common issues I see in texts I read or proofread, and it’s also the one that more easily sets me off. I’m talking about the overuse of participial phrases or, as you probably know them, -ing verbs. They are everywhere, and although they can be used correctly, they usually aren’t.

This is the pattern, and once I mention it, you’ll probably recognize it: “Character A did X, Y-ing something else,” or “Protagonist said, twirling his mustache.” The participial phrase is the entire, well, phrase, “twirling his mustache,” not just the word twirling. Grammatically, they usually work as an adjective, modifying a noun or pronoun (like the subject.) I was surprised when I discovered that because I had intuitively thought they worked as adverbs, saying how something was done (How did he say it? Twisting his mustache) but in fact, they modify a noun, here, “Protagonist.” Basically, it’s like saying “The Protagonist, he-who-is-twisting-his-mustache, said.”

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Psychology of reading and writing: recalling vs. recognizing.

In a previous post, I mentioned I believe the usual advice given to writers (or, rather, to people who want to write) may not be that good, if not downright useless. And if one wants to be controversial, you might as well start with a big bang:

Read a lot. Reading will make you a better writer,” or variations of the same. It seems logical, common-sensical. But if you think about it, it’s a bit like saying that if you want to be a good musician, you should listen to a lot of music, or look at many paintings if you want to be a painter. A kind of craftsmanship by osmosis.

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Bad Writing: Amazon bestsellers edition

The original goal of this post was to write a mini-essay on something that annoys me about contemporary writing. As far as I know, it has no name, and I struggled to find one, so I had to settle for something as cumbersome as “mid-action or mid-description beginnings.” Essentially, the story starts in media res, but not in the middle of the plot, but in the middle of a scene, with people (sometimes a lot of people) doing, sometimes exciting or action-related, stuff… for no reason we can discern. No goals, context, purpose, or meaning are given. It’s just a picture, like a movie scene (and in many cases, it shows the writer imagined it as such.)

The protagonist can be fighting another person (and we know nothing about them so we have no reason to care,) sweating profusely from some equally strenuous activity, engaging in a heavy dialogue with a character we know nothing about, or sometimes it’s a cliché-ridden description as the character prepares to do one of those things (the standard in fantasy until a few years ago was to describe, for some unfathomable reason, the sky – usually a sunset or dawn- and how that light reflected on the local vegetation.)

The opposite, of course, is to start like all stories have always been written, with a small, perhaps only a single sentence, explanation about the why, where, and when so we can contextualize what is happening and will happen.

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