Saturday, June 03, 2006

Pitfalls Facing Newbie Writers, Part IV

Today we continue our series of the most common craft errors newbie writers make. Again, this is not the first place you'll see these errors mentioned. They are the mistakes that critique groups and writing instructors point out again and again.

1) Traveling Body Parts--You find this mistake when a writer "separates" a body part from the body proper. For example, "Her eyes traveled up the long length of him." Can't you just picture those detached pupils scurrying along on little legs?

What the writer meant to say, of course, was, "Her gaze traveled up the long length of him." Do NOT fall into the traveling body parts habit. Once established, it is a very hard habit to break.

2) Incorrect use of "as"--The word "as" is for comparisons. It does NOT represent simultaneous action. Newbie writers frequently use the word "as" when they should be using "when," "while," or "then."

Example: As they watched television, he petted her cat.

What the writer really meant to say was: While they watched television, he petted her cat.

3) Do not separate your subject and your verb with a comma--This mistake happens because writers get confused about the rule regarding the use of commas to separate two independent clauses that are joined by a coordinating conjunction such as "and", "but," and "or."

Newbie writers read this rule to mean that every "and" needs a comma in front of it. That is NOT the case. Notice I bolded the words "two independent clauses." An independent clause is one that has a subject and a verb. Because of this, it can stand on its own.

Examples:

He was in his mid-forties, and he wore glasses. This is an example where you would put a comma between the two clauses because they are independent; they can stand alone. He was in his mid-forties is a sentence in itself. So is he wore glasses. Each has a subject and a verb.

She braked for a light and turned to look at him with reproach. This is a sentence where you would NOT put a comma in front of the "and." She braked for a light is an independent clause, meaning it can stand on its own. However, look at what happens when you separate the second half of the sentence: turned to look at him with reproach. There is no subject. This is NOT an independent clause. The subject in the second half of the sentence is the "she" at the beginning of the sentence. By putting a comma before "and," you are separating your subject from your verb: In effect, it becomes She, turned to look at him with reproach.

If the two halves of the sentence cannot stand alone, do not put a comma between them.

Happy Writing.

2 comments:

Sherrill Quinn said...

I'm guilty of the "as" thing. And the comma thing. What can I say? I like commas! :)

Maya said...

Sherrill: The comma thing is not a problem for me, but I had a terrible time with traveling "eyes" and still struggle with "as" periodically. I usually catch them during edits.