I love to write – and have for a long time – but that doesn’t mean I’m a great writer.
Or even a good writer.
Which is why I know that as a writer, I can always improve.
Which is why I enjoy taking creative writing classes.
Our writing instructor gave us a tricky assignment. She wanted us to take several writing rules and break them, repeatedly but not blatantly, in a piece.
But – she wanted the piece to be written so that at first read, you might not notice the errors.
I chose three writing rules to break, and had some fun with it. The piece is below, followed by a list of the rules I broke.
As I slowly awoke at the crack of noon, I immediately realized my blood alcohol level was getting dangerously low.
So I repaired to my neighborhood watering hole, Peely’s Pub, where – that’s right – everybody knows my name. But you don’t, and you won’t – just call me Nameless Narrator. Ms. Nameless Narrator if you prefer to go formal.
Peely’s was everything you wanted in your neighborhood dive: a couple of neon beer signs flashing in dirty windows, inviting you into the dim, narrow, smoky room. Funny how these places are still smoky, even after those health folks decided smoking was bad for us. The bar was on one side, booths on the other, a few tables in between, a dusty Foosball game in the back. Remember Foosball? Me neither. The jukebox was playing the last 26 seconds of that Garth Brooks’ favorite, I’ve Got Friends in Low Places, a tune that suited my mood perfectly.
Buddy, the bartender – that wasn’t his name, either – reached for the gin as I settled on the cracked leather bar stool. The leather wasn’t real, but it didn’t matter because the gin was. Watching Buddy make my drink of choice – a parsley gin julep (that’s right, I said “julep”) was to see a maestro in action. He carefully counted out eight parsley leaves, then muddled them in a cocktail shaker with fresh lime juice – none of that bottled stuff for Buddy – and simple syrup. I don’t know why they call it “simple,” and I don’t care. Then Buddy added ice cubes and crushed ice, and masterfully measured out one-and-a-half ounces of gin, not a drop more, not a drop less.
After several well-choreographed shakes to the shaker, Buddy applied a strainer and poured the liquid nirvana into a tall glass of ice. But he wasn’t finished yet. His masterpiece still required a splash of club soda and a wheel of lime, skin on, sliced to a thickness of precisely 7/16 of an inch.
As Buddy reverently placed the glass on the cocktail napkin in front of me, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. Why people use that cliché is beyond me, since eyes don’t have corners. I turned my head about 40 degrees and that’s when I saw him. Seated at the end of the bar, eight stools away, looking right at me as if he were Columbus and he’d just discovered America. He was tall, dark and – well, you know the rest. How did I know he was tall? Because I’m also the Omniscient Narrator.
The scruffy two-day growth of beard couldn’t disguise his sculpted cheekbones and squared-off chin. Dark eyebrows arched over dark eyes, and went well with his headful of thick, dark hair. Did I mention he was tall, dark and – I believe I did. His broad shoulders filled out his suit jacket to perfection, and his loosened tie revealed the long, strong column of his throat. I’ve always wanted to say “long, strong column” in reference to a guy, and not a Greek building.
He was drinking beer straight from the bottle, American, not that imported stuff. I like that in a guy. In fact, I liked everything about this guy, and I sensed that the feeling was – well, you know the rest. He lifted his beer, drained the last few drops, set the bottle on the bar, stood, and began walking toward me.
And yes, I admit it. I thought, “Of all the gin joints, in all the…” – well, you know the rest.
I raised my glass, caressed it with my lips, then took a long, healthy swallow. That dangerously low level of alcohol in my blood was about to get taken care of.
And so, my friends, was I.
What’s wrong with this writing?
I used nine adverbs ending in -ly. Why is this bad?
Some experts say:
Overuse of adverbs is the hallmark of lazy, cluttered writing. Good writing should use strong verbs rather than -ly adverbs. Often the adverbs mean the same as the verb and become redundant, leading to messy prose. The most common (over)use of adverbs is to modify the verb said, e.g., “I’m leaving,” he said angrily.
By reducing these adverbs, the author allows the characters to convey the emotions of the dialogue themselves. Instead of telling the reader, they show them:
He slammed his fist on the desk. “I’m leaving.”
I also used nine verbs ending in -ing.
Some experts say,
Choose -ing words more carefully and replace with more powerful or descriptive verbs. Replace weak or common -ing words with specific, stronger word choices. Your writing will become more concise, clear, and engaging.
Instead of writing this:
She was running down the street like a maniac!
She charged down the street like a maniac!
I also used at least a dozen clichés, and all experts agree, clichés are to be avoided at all costs (and yes, “at all costs” is a cliché):
Cliché: a phrase or opinion that is overused and shows a lack of original thought.
Here’s an old cliché:
Dead as a doornail.
Here’s a more recent cliché:
That’s around 30 rule-breakers in one piece of writing done deliberately.
I did a great job of writing badly!
Don’t get out your red pen if there are other rules I broke indeliberately…