Persons who regularly engage in creative writing, whether it involves simple memoranda, formal business reports, articles, short stories, novels, or dramatic works, supposedly possess the requisite skills for clarity, conciseness, logical structure, organized flow, and other attributes addressed toward maximum comprehension by any duly intelligent reader. Unfortunately, our many years of experience in both the composing and editorial realms have found this often not the case, even among professionals. Being inclined toward perfectionism in this respect, we tend to become unduly upset upon seeing output which fails to meet what we have defined as well-disciplined standards.
Copy is being published every day and in many ways where the types of shortcomings we'll cite herein all too often pass virtually unnoticed by composers, proof readers, editors, and end recipients. The sole acceptable excuse might be deadline-meeting urgency, but that's a mighty slim one indeed. The collective output chiefly suffers from abject carelessness.
The sins being constantly committed by our literary gentry in nearly every area are discussed below, but not necessarily according to commission severity. We judge them roughly equal in proportion.
Failure to pre-establish a structured outline, which leads to rambling and potential confusion
Incorrect spelling and/or grammar
Inconsistency of terms and spelling
Incorrect spelling of foreign phrases
Needless word repetition.
Advance Structuring Failure
For whatever reason found appropriate, a tendency may prevail just to sit down and begin composing, on the premise that every pertinent issue will come to mind as the effort progresses. Our experience has shown this to be a relatively senseless practice, usually carried out by an insufficiently trained or downright lazy writer. Before the end product can meet acceptable standards under such conditions, a good deal of review and double-checking becomes vital. Normally, a rough advance outline should be all that's required, in simple note form, so as to gain an overall grasp of what to cover before plunging aimlessly ahead. No further elaboration on this point appears necessary.
Incorrect Spelling and/or Grammar
This is totally and absolutely inexcusable, yet errors clearly abound in both cases, even getting past proof readers and editors.
As for grammar, although the teachers ground it into us throughout our school days, the rules never seemed to penetrate 100%. A lot of us go on committing the same inbred errors year after year, with no thought whatsoever devoted to self-improvement once the classroom days have come to an end. Fortunately, most discrepancies are minor in nature, and thus disregarded by readers. The above criticism notwithstanding, it can sometimes be not only acceptable but useful to resort to the vernacular. Selectively intelligent use of the word "ain't" might add a little needed color. Carrying the idea further, an occasional double negative or similar grammatical slip may help put a key point across, provided, of course, such intent remains perfectly clear.
Inconsistency of Terms and Spelling
An individual writer will normally stick with his or her own standardized terms and phraseology from start to finish. However, occasions arise where an article or report may be handled by two or more individuals, perhaps with one performing an edit/correction review of a colleague's work. When this situation applies, extreme care is necessary to assure word flow consistency, while also making certain not to contradict any original composer's statements appearing elsewhere in the text.
Such partnership-type activity can lead to further complications if one team member employs American terminology, subject to edit review by a Britisher, or vice versa. Finding the same words spelled two different ways, maybe no farther than a single paragraph apart, appears awkward to the point of evident stupidity. Inconsistency of this sort isn't apt to go unnoticed by the end reader.
Incorrect Spelling of Foreign Phrases
Resorting to commonly-used French, Italian, Spanish, German, Latin, Greek, or other language expressions when putting text together is perfectly suitable, just so long as the practice doesn't get overdone. However, a good writer never dares forget the importance of their absolutely correct spelling. We know from experience that foreigners become a bit revolted by reading something expressed in their own native tongue, but reflecting a disdain for accuracy. In absence of full certainty, the writer should stick to pure English.
Needless Word Repetition
Whereas each of the foregoing issues falls under the basics category, the subject we're now about to introduce tends to border on the semi-revolutionary. What we wish to encourage in the strongest possible terms is never never, well, hardly ever be repetitious, and we ourselves carry this doctrine to a near fault. With considerable past years' mental struggle, we've managed to achieve a self-taught disciplinary practice whereby: " The same noun, adjective, verb, or adverb should appear only once within any given paragraph; and " The same preposition, other than "to", should appear only once within any given sentence. Dwelling on the above rules of practice for a moment or two will bring the realization that applying them at all times can become a rather difficult chore, frequently causing the writer to sit back and reflect. Such discipline requires a lot of studied thought, and perhaps, in many persons' viewpoints, lies far from being worth the effort. Nevertheless, we're quite satisfied with the mental accomplishment we've achieved, even though it often becomes necessary to stare at an uncompleted sentence or paragraph at length, while searching for an appropriate synonym or alternate prepositional phrase. For the newcomer's benefit, having a thesaurus at hand ought to prove helpful. Referring to our "hardly ever" exception per an earlier paragraph, occasions will arise when the need for downright emphasis may actually render repetition a valuable feature, hence fully permissible. This must be a judgment call on the composer's part, and not overapplied.
At the very least, we do encourage anybody engaged in creative writing work to give our methodology a good try. The end result can be mentally rewarding, as we've found from our own experience.
The two most difficult prepositions to avoid repeating within a single sentence are "in" and "of", especially the latter. Still, intelligent rephrasing does not lie beyond the bounds of possibility.
Our English language allows for possessive noun form usage, thus avoiding "of". For example, why must we say "the direction of the aircraft" when it is just as easy, not to mention space-saving, to substitute "the aircraft's direction"?
Several years ago we carried out an exhaustive study of the Encyclopedia Britannica, poring through every single volume from cover to cover, in order to establish just who were the 500 persons throughout world history leaving the most significant collective impact on mankind's development and progressive existence. Needless to say, we found it quite fascinating to see the influential effect brought about by an almost infinitesimal fraction of those who've come and gone over the ages.
While going through such exercise, we observed over and over that word economy did not form part of the Britannica's literary policy. In fact, we became sorely tempted to write to the publishers, informing them how they could save countless pages by merely using possessive noun forms where their writers had constantly inserted "of". Figuring, however, that nobody would bother to listen, we finally decided to forego communicating our space-saving suggestion.
We're going to close out this treatise by presenting several exemplary paragraphs laid out in the manner we see all too frequently, followed by revised versions employing the word economy measures discussed above.
James continued to run through the forest, stumbling over tree roots, getting his face scraped by hanging leaves, and beginning to sweat profusely. He seemed to be making some progress, since the barking of the dogs and the shouts of the pursuing guards seemed to be less discernible. James wondered if he somehow might safely reach the river and run through the shallow water nearest the river bank.
James continued to charge through the forest, stumbling over tree roots, getting his face scraped by hanging leaves, and beginning to sweat profusely. He seemed to be making progress, since the dogs' barking and the pursuing guards' shouts were less discernible. He wondered if he might safely reach the river and run through the shallow water nearest the bank.
In the bygone days of radio, when a different soap opera would come on the air every fifteen minutes throughout each weekday afternoon, one of the more popular programs was Vic and Sade, a simple family program with more than a slight touch of droll humor. One of the programme's more humourous features was the fraternal lodge to which the husband Vic belonged and served as one of its officials. He happened to be the Exalted Big Dipper of the Lazy Venus Chapter of the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way.
In radio's bygone days, when a different soap opera would come on the air every fifteen minutes throughout each weekday afternoon, among the more popular shows was Vic and Sade, a simple family program with a fair amount of droll humor. The fraternal lodge to which the husband belonged and served in an official capacity could readily bring on a listener's grin. Within an organization known as the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way, he held the Exalted Big Dipper post for the Lazy Venus Chapter.
Lillie's day-to-day life certainly wasn't anything to get excited about. Doing the breakfast dishes, doing the day's laundry chores, then lunch, more dishes, a most boring afternoon, then the evening meal, still more dishes, finally boring TV reruns, and off to bed to rest up for yet another dreary day. Should anyone ever ask Lillie how things were going for her, she'd always resort to what little French she could recall from high school days and reply "Oh, comme si, comme sa". She'd long ago resigned herself to a life of sheer drudgery, often resorting to still another French expression of a philosophical nature by telling herself "Ce le vie". In November she would be thirty years old and still living in the same squalid flat where she'd lived for the past eight years.
Lillie's existence certainly wasn't anything to get excited about. Each day's activities would involve cleaning up after breakfast, attending to the laundry chores, then lunch and more dishes to do, a most boring afternoon, the evening meal, finally a series of tedious TV reruns, and off to bed to rest up for yet an equally dreary tomorrow. Should anyone ever ask the lady about her well-being, she'd always resort to what little French she could recall from high school and reply "Oh, comme ci, comme. She'd long ago resigned herself to a life of sheer drudgery, often employing still another philosophical Gallic expression "C'est la vie". In November she would reach age thirty, occupying the same squalid flat where she'd resided for the past eight years.
Perhaps the most sensational baseball player of the sport's early era was Tyrus Raymond Cobb. Cobb wasn't only an outstanding hitter, but also possessed the exceptional speed and daring to become the best base stealer of his day. However, base stealing wasn't his only forte. Cobb employed his speed and downright nerve to perform such feats as going from first to third on a teammate's infield out or scoring all the way from first on a teammate's single to the outfield.
Perhaps the most sensational baseball player of the sport's early era was Tyrus Raymond Cobb. Not only an outstanding hitter, he also possessed the speed and daring to become the best base stealer of his day. Furthermore, Ty had the ability and downright nerve to reach third from first if a teammate should ground out to the infield, or all the way to the plate on an outfield single.
As noted above, repetitiousness is certainly no virtue in a writing exercise. Clearly, it reflects an abject lack of imaginative thinking, often considering execution speed a supposed virtue. The English language contains an almost endless array of fully or nearly synonymous expressions. Their intelligent use can add significantly to improved presentation. The reader will observe how we've managed to avoid senseless word duplication within each given paragraph or sentence, depending on the part of speech involved.
We cannot overemphasize what we deem a more than worthy revised approach to any individual's creative writing habits. True, a bit of frustration may apply, but it's sure to pay off in the long run. We know, having gone through the exercise ourselves.