Louis L’Amour was a great natural storyteller, but he was not what you’d call a sophisticated or even a polished writer. But because he was such a marvelous storyteller, he was able to get away with his somewhat ‘untutored’ prose.
And I will be the very first to say that I enjoy reading his stories. But gerunds really tick me off. So do repeated phrases and throwaway phrases.
Starting with gerunds, let’s get right down to it. Thinking about how to start another sentence, let’s get focused on our subject. Strapping on my hog-leg, I’ll mosey over to the word barn and see if we can sort out a few ‘issues’ with composition.
Rising to the occasion, let’s get focused on what we’re talking about.
I really, really hate gerunds.
I downloaded a free book to my Kindle the other day – it’s a military thriller by a former Marine who must have a life-long love affair with Louis L’Amour westerns, because every paragraph and nearly every sentence in that novel of his starts with, of course, a damn gerund.
Don’t get me wrong; gerunds can be useful. But laziness does not equate to professionalism, and the use of a gerund at the beginning of every paragraph is nothing but downright laziness. It demonstrates to one and all that you cannot be bothered with thinking about your craft; you as a writer see no reason to waste any time thinking about what you need to put down on paper or how to keep the flow of the tale moving along nicely. You have no consideration for your reader.
Throwaway phrases and over-used words (such as “I”) and repetitive blocking-out also display a lazy approach to writing. Having your characters drink coffee in every scene because you cannot be bothered thinking of something else for them to do should embarrass you as a writer. Remember, while ‘Creative Writing’ is only about 5% of the effort involved in writing, you still have to be somewhat ‘Creative’.
Throwaway phrases such as, “Trust me on this”, and “Hey, Baby” and “You got it” or any other such that you find yourself using in dialogue or in narrative are sure signs of a lazy – and therefore uninteresting – writer. Vary your phrasing, for crying out loud. Do yourself a favor and actually be creative in how you write. That’s why G-d invented the thesaurus.
One of the hardest things to do when writing from the first-person perspective is avoiding the use of the word ‘I’:
I got up and opened the door. Sheryl was standing there, wrapped in a long coat. But I could tell there was nothing under that coat but woman, and I knew that woman well. I smiled and opened the door all the way. I stood aside and said, “I love you, Baby,” and then I turned and followed her into my living room. When she turned, smiling, she had a pistol in her hand, and slowly raised it until the barrel was pointed right between my eyes.
“Funny thing about that, Harry,” she said as I began to shake, “I hate your guts, you cheap weasel,”
Potentially an interesting scene, but everything seems to be I, I, I, I, I etc. Rephrase it. Rewrite, it for pity’s sake. Don’t be lazy. You’re a creative writer, so be creative. Get someone – not your wife, husband or mother – to read what you write and point out gerunds and repeated words and phrases. You can’t see them yourself, I promise you, but once someone does show you these things you will catch on, though the first few minutes might well see you blushing with embarrassment. But you’ll get over it and become a much better writer than you ever thought possible.
You have to stay flexible and you have to be able to identify repeated phrases and other such things in your own writing as you continue to write. Welcome such criticism and learn from it. That’s how you grow as a writer. Study the way other writer’s work in their novels – don’t just read them, but study them to learn how they phrase things, good and bad. You’ll begin to see the good and the bad very quickly.
On 14 April, I will be in Ocala, Florida, at the Marion County Public Library on Silver Springs Blvd for the Author Expo. Lots of local and out-of-town authors to meet and greet, and lots of lovely books to buy (and get signed0. The Expo runs between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m on that Saturday. Stop by and say hello!