Writing advice

My friend Claudia Finseth from the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop for Fantasy read Wandering Time and gave me some excellent suggestions. She also copied writing tips from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. I’m posting some of the tips here because I think others may be interested in a sample of his advice on how to improve writing style. (This is an excerpt from John Gardner via Claudia Finseth):


Interrupting the vivid and continuous fictional dream; undermining the writer’s authority.

1. Insufficient detail
2. Abstraction instead of concrete detail “the weather was wonderful”
3. Failure to run straight at the image;
filtering the image through observing conscious
“She saw snakes fighting”
4. Passive voice: “The snakes were fighting . . .”
5. Verbs with auxiliaries: “were fighting” vs “fought”
6. Introductory phrases containing infinite verbs:
“Fighting the snake with one hand, he . . .”
(Instead use compound predicates or introduce qualifiers or appositional phrases:
“she slipped–or rather yanked–off the garter . . .”)
7. Boring, unimaginary, unvaried verbs
8. Latinate language instead of simple Anglo-Saxon
“surveyed the area” vs “looked around”

My old writing teacher, Claire Braz Valentine always picked up on the gerunds (those -ing verbs) in our writing and advised using a minimum. It became such a theme that I once wrote this poem for her:

Gerunds for Claire

Morning swimming,
water bluing, bubbling,
stroking, breathing.
Thinking, writing
in my head.

Brewing poems,
purging endings.
Discarded gerunds
drift, congealing.

Sylvia Patience

She had a point. Too many gerunds weaken the writing.

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