Why didn’t anyone tell me?
This manuscript shares a problem with many indie stories I’ve read in recent years. The issue is with how to describe actions. My early Clockpunk Wizard manuscripts, and these other stories, suffer from String ’em Up Syndrome.
All Together Now
Here’s the problem. In life, things happen simultaneously. A cat purrs while we pet it. An evil villain chuckles while he leans over the helpless victim, flicking open a switch blade with a click (I’ll return to this awful sentence).
Actions Are Like Beads on a String
Activities in fiction happen one at a time. Yes, they must. Why? Because authors should help Gentle Reader keep things straight. Even if we fictionalized real-life events, and those events happened all at once, we must present them one at a time in our stories.
Think of it as an action (a beautiful bead) strung with a reaction (another bead). Let’s revisit the “A cat purrs while we pet it“ sentence and correct the String ’em Up Syndrome:
- Jayne stroked the orange tabby cat. Garfield purred. Two sentences for the action/reaction pair show sequencing.
- Garfield narrowed his eyes and bit Jayne. Two actions using “and.”
- Jayne shrieked, then fled to the other end of the couch. Two actions with a comma and “then.”
Back to “An evil villain chuckles while he leans over the helpless victim, flicking open a switch blade with a click.”
First, what’s redundant in this sentence? Evil villain. Aren’t they all? Let’s show he’s despicable with actions and dialogue. Second, we will correct the String ’em Up Syndrome along the way:
Mortimer leaned over the hog-tied Penelope. He chuckled. “You have lovely blue eyes, my darling. Think I’ll take one for my collection.” He teased a switch blade from his vest pocket. Flicked it open. It clicked.
Is Mortimer acting, and talking, like an evil villain? Well, I’m squirming, and I even wrote it. Look at the beautiful beads we strung: leaning/chuckling, small talk about blue eyes and hobbies, easing torture instruments from pockets, then flicking/clicking.
We fixed the sentence. Its awful writer’s craft no longer distracts Gentle Reader. The focus is now on Mortimer’s awful hobby. Still cringing? Good. My work here is done.