Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Do You Suffer From One of These Writing Maladies?

[commercial voice] There are pernicious writerly germs out there infecting pages all around the world. Left uncured they can be fatal. Talk to your book doctor or literary health provider if you notice any of these symptoms:

Yoda Effect: Difficult to read, sentences are, when reversing sentences an author is. Cart before horse, I'm putting, and confused, readers will be.

Overstuffed Sentences: An overstuffed sentence happens when a writer tries to pack too many things into one sentence in convoluted fashion, making it difficult for the intent of the sentence to come through and to follow it becomes an exercise in re-reading the sentence while making the sentence clearer in our brains so we can understand the overstuffed sentence, which is the point of reading.

Imprecision: When writers just miss the target ground with their word using they on occasion elicit a type of sentence experiential feeling that creates a backtracking necessity.

Chatty Cathy: So, like, I don't know if you've noticed but OMG teenagers use so much freaking slang!!! And multiple exclamation points!!! In a novel not a blog post!!! And so I'm all putting tons of freaking repetitious verbal tics into totes every sentence and it's majorly exhausting the reader because WAIT I NEED TO USE ALL CAPS.

Repetition: Sometimes when authors get lyrical, lyrical in a mystical, wondrous sense, they use repetition, repetition that used sparingly can be effective, effective in a way that makes us pause and focus, focus on the thing they're repeating, but when used too many times, so many times again and again, it can drive us insane, insane in a way that will land the reader in the loony bin, the loony bin for aggrieved readers.

Shorter Hemingway: Clipped sentences. Muscular. Am dropping articles. The death. It spreads. No sentence more than six words. Dear god the monotony. The monotony like death.

Non Sequiturs: Sometimes when authors are in a paragraph one thing won't flow to the next. They'll describe one thing, wow can you believe that thing that happened three days ago?, and keep describing the first thing.

Description Overload: Upon this page there is a period. It is not just any period, it is a period following a sentence. It follows this sentence in a way befitting a period of its kind, possessing a roundness that is pleasing to the eye and hearty to the soul. This period has the bearing of a regal tennis ball combined with the utility of a used spoon. It is an unpretentious period, just like any other, the result of hundreds of years of typesetting innovations that allows it to be used, almost forgotten, like oxygen to the sentence only darker, more visible. And it is after this period, which will neither reappear nor matter in any sense whatsoever to the rest of the novel, that our story begins.

Stilted dialogue:
Character #1: "I am saying precisely what I mean!"
Character #2: "Wait. What is that you are trying to tell me?"
Character #1: "Are you frickin' listening to me? I am telling you precisely what I am feeling in this given moment. And I'm showing you I'm really angry by using pointed rhetorical questions and petulant exhortations. God."
Character #2: "Sheesh! Well, I'm responding with leading questions that allow you to tell me exactly what you mean while adding little of value to the conversation on my own. Am I not?"
Character #1:"You are totally doing that. You totally frickin' are. Ugh! I'm so mad right now!"

The Old Spice Guy Effect (excessive rug-pulling). The character was standing on a rug. He falls through his floor to his death! The rug was actually a trap door. But wait, the character was already dead. He merely faked falling through the trap door. But wait, the trap door was actually a portal into another world. The character was actually alive, he just thought he was dead. Now he's really dead. Or is he? I'm in a chair.

Have you spotted any other writerly viruses out there in the wild?






234 comments:

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Stephanie McGee said...

LOL. I've just finished a round of revisions and have been noticing some of my verbal tics. This was a hilarious post. Thanks for sharing!

my lonely journal said...

Lol! So brilliant, I adore this. "Imprecision" might be my favorite.

Lisa of In Pencil said...

This is brilliant.

Jess Tudor said...

<3

Beth Mann said...

Freaking hilarious, Nathan - and informative! AND you managed to incorporate the Old Spice Guy? Bravo.

Brett Lay said...

Absolutely hilarious.

Jen J. Danna said...

Absolute brilliance. This post is a definite keeper for those times when writing gets us down and we need a good laugh. Thank you!

Bethany said...

LOL! Excellent lessons and good examples.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I think I just died laughing. Thanks for that.
:D

Marisa Birns said...

Then there's dialog tag overload.

"What do you mean?" he asked sneeringly.

"Shut up!" she shouted excitedly.

"Do you love me?" he questioned imploringly.

etc.

Kristan said...

"because WAIT I NEED TO USE ALL CAPS."

LOL! SO. TRUE.

(How many rules did I break right there?)

Katherine C said...

Hilarious, especially the period bit!

Another malady--when the writer uses every possible synonym for "said" he can find in the thesaurus. Divulged, chimed, chorused, yelled, snapped, interjected, snarled, screamed, joked, quizzed, questioned, and the dreaded ejaculated :-)

Some of these work fine, in sparing quantities, maybe. But please, for the love of all that is good, don't use the last one to mean "said."

Anonymous said...

second good laugh of the day.

Katherine C said...

Oops, I see Marisa pointed out the said overload too! Sorry to repeat...

Steven Till said...

What about the "Longer O'Brian?" I coin this based on writers who use overly long, complex sentences. Read the first paragraph of the "The Far Side of the World" by Patrick O'Brian. The entire paragraph is one sentence long.

http://amzn.to/a7rZHV

T. Anne said...

Ha so funny! A good edit covers a multitude of sins. ;)

Michele Shaw said...

LOL. Funny examples, yet important reminders. Thanks!

Locusts and Wild Honey said...

What about the

Simile Obsessed:

Her eyes burned like two vivid suns and her teeth were as white as freshly shorn sheep. Her hair flowed like a babbling brook down her back, which was as straight as an arrow and as milky as a glass of cold milk.

ACK!!! STOP IT!!!

Debs Riccio said...

I am a parentheses addict (apparently) (so I'm told) and I don't know what to do about it (or if I even want to...) ellipses run a pretty close second... (I think)...

Livia said...

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Hemmingway: To die. In the rain.

Ramsey Hootman said...

LOL!

My personal failing is repetition. Sometimes it's necessary, but I catch myself doing it way too much.

Steven Till - Pretty sure O'Brian is intentionally mimicking an older style. Crack some 19th century fiction and you'll see.

Etta said...

Damn funny. You should have a blog about writing. Or something.

Rebecca said...

Old Spice Guy effect, HEE. You make me happy, Nathan.

I'm on a computer.

Summer Ross said...

LOL this was really great. I love this "I'm in a chair" lol

A.L. said...

Very entertaining post. I've found I hit the yoda effect at times, as well as over stuffed sentences. Both seemed to have started around the time that I started studying Japanese.

The sentence structure differences are just so weird and different. Lets not even get started on the fact that in Japanese you actually can, and do, place commas with a shotgun.

Tchann said...

"WAIT I NEED TO USE ALL CAPS."

If I had been drinking something, it would have been all over my monitor about two seconds after I read that line.

When I've been editing, I've found that I tend to fall into a sort of formulaic writing trap: 'Sighing heavily, the writer rubbed her brow and rewrote the sentence. Verbing adjective, subject verbed direct object.'

It's tedious to fix, but it means that writing those last two sentences were a lot more difficult than it used to be!

I'm on a chair.

Ed Marrow said...

My first draft had all of them except for the Old Spice Guy. I do, however, find him hilarious.

Lee said...

Love this!

I'm with Locusts and Wild Honey, simile, simile, simile - especially when describing how handsome the hero is.. Ugh.

Maya said...

OMG, this is, like, totally getting BOOKMARKED!

She scrolled her mouse to the menu on the top of the browser, the cursor blinking rapidly between an arrow and MC Hammer's "Too Legit 2 Quit" symbol, eying the the long list of folders that alighted and wondering why so many of them include viral YouTube videos she had no time to watch because she worked many, many hours at her office and then spent every spare minute writing the Great American Novel so she could quit her job and leave behind her masochistic boss forever.

"I hope this will teach me to write good," she sighed.

"As if you aren't already the best writer in the whole world!" her mother cried.

"Oh, Mom!" She rolled her eyes. "Of course YOU think so." She emphasized the YOU because her mother had to love her since she had given birth to her.

"But I know I can write just as badly as the next dude," she sighed.

Kristin said...

Brilliant, Nathan!

Hope Cancer Resources said...

You need to copywrite the
Old Spice Guy Effect. Seriously.
Not kidding I am.

Backfence said...

LOL. Nathan, you do have fun with your blog, don't you!

Nick said...

Oh my gosh. This sums up any frustration I've ever had or not had, in any medium (including forum posts). You didn't specifically list due vs. do but I think one of these categories generically includes it.

Kelly R. Morgan said...

LOL, I am Shorter Hemingway. Words get in my way. Until revision. Then they get put in stretching machine.

Anonymous said...

Not only was this funny, but extrememly useful. Thank you Nathan.

A Paperback Writer said...

Nathan, this reminds me of that "birth" chapter in James Joyce's Ullysses where Joyce attempts to go through the history of the English language while writing the chapter (beginning in Old English and ending in the worst possible attempt at American slang ever written by someone who knew nothing about American slang). Of course, you were trying to be funny -- and I'm not sure Joyce was.

May I suggest some names? After all, if you're going to have the Shorter Hemingway style, then your overstuffed sentences should really be the William Faulkner effect. (There's that one bloody sentence in Intruder in the Dust which is 4 1/2 pages long....)
And the description overload style could be renamed after Sir Walter Scott (the plot of Waverley begins on page 160) or after Victor Hugo (isn't there a whole chapter on describing the floor of the cathedral in Hunchback?).

As for your Old Spice Guy one -- THAT is the best ever! This will be very helpful indeed as I try to get our new school librarian to understand why some YA books just aren't all that great. (He thinks action=great. I disagree. The Old Spice Guy and you will help me make this clear to him. I owe you one for this, Nathan.)

jjdebenedictis said...

I almost inhaled my lunch over "I'm in a chair." Why is that still funny?

lodjohnson said...

You are fricken' brilliant!!!!

(May I add some more exclamation marks?)

Claire King said...

OK I'm crying with laughter at this one. Pure brilliance.

Daisy Harris said...

Love it!! I will refer all crit partners here when they try to argue with me about not breaking up run-on (or as they say "lyrical") sentences.

My pet-peeve tic is the circular sentence, in which the end says essentially the same thing as the beginning, which I find irksome.

ARJules said...

Note to self: Do not drink any kind of liquid while reading Nathan's blog posts. Check.

Now that I have cleaned the coffee off of my keyboard. (Which is rather sticky now, thank you very much. heh)

The only other two things that really annoy me are:
Deux ex machina and Scooby Doo endings, both of which were in a semi-recent popular YA. If you have to have a second scene to explain what just happened, you didn't write the previous scene well in the first place.

Just my opinion, of course.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Funny!Entertaining way of making the point.

Yoda effect, here. I usually catch them and I see them a lot in crit group.

I'm not sure if this is quite overstuffing because the sentences are not convoluted, just long. But I sometimes take maybe three sentences and add, "ands" instead of periods. So I work on that now.

Thanks for the advice.

Charlee Vale said...

This thing. It made my day. Brilliant. You make Hemingway proud. Thank you.

CV

Bane of Anubis said...

Guilty of all (except maybe the chatty chat one) at one point or another... *%^T!

Side note: for your commercial, you need to be selling something... and must list potential side effects... so I'm gonna have to give this post an A-; otherwise, nicely done.

Laura B said...

Oh, I love you. You make me smile, and teach me something at the same time.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

The Uncertainty Effect

-- Sometimes, just possibly, writers might use some sort of words, maybe, that might almost undercut what they might kind of perhaps be trying to possibly say.

Matthew Rush said...

How is it possible that you can be so hilarious and helpful at the same time? You are clearly an android from the planet Dagobah sent here to take over the publishing industry - and we love you for it!

Kristin Laughtin said...

I've been guilty of the overstuffed sentences and imprecision, although I think I'm getting better at the latter. It takes a lot of meticulous thinking sometimes to make sure you've chosen just the right word, and that you're not substituting words that sound pretty for words that mean something. I can be a Chatty Cathy in blog posts, although without all the slang and multiple explanation points. I just tend to ramble. I'm trying to avoid doing so here. I may be failing.

Loved your description overload example. And I just love the Old Spice Guy in general!

Nathan Bransford said...

kristin-

Yeah, I just meant Chatty Cathy in novels. In blog posts of course it's totes fine!!

Carole said...

Personally I would like to hear more about the period. It sounds like such a lovely creature. I wish you could be a bit more descriptive.

February Grace said...

This.

This...

THIS is why I love you.

And I mean that in the most non-creepy, 'no worries I'm on the other side of the country, I do have a life and I promise I'm not a complete wingnut' way possible.

Thank you not only for another treasure-trove worthy post but also for making me smile on a really rough day.

You really need an official fan club. With t-shirts. I'd pay for a t-shirt with this post printed on it.

You think I'm kidding? I'm so not kidding.

~bru

Amy said...

I love this post.

ryan field said...

LOL!! At least if you recognize these things they can be edited eventually.

TKAstle said...

Nathan (and Ink)- You are too dang funny. That's all I have to say.

Thanks for a good laugh.

Liz said...

*LOL* *snort* My coworkers are giving me dirty looks. :)

Hilarious, especially the overly descriptive passage. Though I may be guilty of the stilted dialogue on occasion. That's what revisions are for!

K.L. Brady said...

Hilarious!

I'm innocent of most charges but do on occasion suffer from sporadic cases of Sentence Stuffin'itis. :)

Alex Beecroft said...

LOL! I think I do them all!

Lexi said...

Nathan, I think I love you.

Nancy said...

So Marisa, would the opposite of too many dialog tags be no dialog tags or "talking head syndrome"--you know where you have to go back up and count the lines of text to figure out exactly who said what?!?

Thanks, Nathan!

MommyJ said...

I love this post. I can't stand your description of "chatty cathy" writing even when it is in a blog post. In an actual novel, I don't think I could get past one or two sentences.

These were great descriptions. I'm going to bookmark and read it often as a reminder of what to avoid.

Jill said...

Yep, that was witty, all right. My worst fault is probably the overstuffed sentence.

Taylor Mathews Taylor said...

This post is The Man.

Jaimie said...

"I'm in a chair."

Hahahaha.

If I suffer from anything, it's rug-pulling. The most annoying one to me is the teenage-talk.

Heidi said...

Absolutely fantastic. I mean, anything that includes a reference to the Old Spice Guy is bound to be pretty amazing, but this was beyond amazing. I laughed louder than I probably should have, considering I'm at work. Thanks! =)

wry wryter said...

I would like to quote my not so long dead uncle.

"Oh what a funny little fish the froggy are, when him jumps, him jumps and when him sits, him sits, on his tail which him ain't got none almost hardly."

or,

"Him has gone, him has went, him
has left me all alone will he never come to me must I always go to he, oh it cannot was."

maine character said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tania Hershman said...

I've just read almost 900 entries for a short story competition and have seen many, many examples of every single of these maladies! Spot on, Mr Bransford, spot on. If only there was a cure!

Emily White said...

"Dear god the monotony."

That right there is pure gold.

Mira said...

Oh phew. Chatty Cathy in blog posts is fine? Oh thank goodness. Otherwise, I couldn't post. WHAT WOULD I SAY??

This list should be copyrighted. I'm serious.

Everything here is so funny. Probably my favorite of them all was the Description Overload. That was just stunning. Tennis ball/Used spoon/Will never matter to the story. ROFL!!

Nathan, you'll have to write a book someday.

I mean, another book.

Wonderful.

Andi Newton said...

Another one to add to the list: crutch words. My personal bane in that category is "just". I haven't quite broken myself of using it, but by default I do one editing pass specifically to look for that word. And it's lucky if I leave it in even once.

Hannah said...

"The character thought he was dead, but really he was riding a horse. Backwards. Oh wait, I'm in a chair."

Brilliant post.

gsfields said...

You've made me fall in love with the period all over again.

Thank you.

Mesmerix said...

I am printing these out and adding them to my cheat-sheets and writer's bible.

Fantastic!

Scribbler to Scribe

Creative Conduit said...

Favorite post of yours. Ever.

Patrice said...

I bet your friends think you're a blast. Is JWCSK funny like this post?

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I love that you show us the incorrect ways we write, this is invaluable. I wonder though, if one day you'd consider showing us the *right* way to write. Like posting a portion of a book you admire and show us by example why it actually works and what traps the author avoided by structuring their words right. Like a reverse red-lining. I think that would be cool if you considered it.

what you are doing is a great service to your readers. You are terrific. Keep it up

Jen

Steven Till said...

Ramsey - I'm pretty sure he is. And O'Brian is successful at doing it. My point is some writers cannot pull it off, and it comes off as being difficult to read. O'Brian can pull it off. I was using his name for my term because he's the first author that came to mind who creates these long, run-on type sentences, which I personally like if done well. When crafting sentences in this style, the writer must pay careful attention to balance and rhythm.

Steph said...

(Over)Animated Conversations
He looked at me, his eyes narrowed. “Have you finished the revision?” I looked down. “No,” I said, shaking my head. He rolled his eyes, sighing. “I don’t understand what you’re waiting for,” he said with a frown. “Waiting for?” I said, raising my eyebrows. "I'm not waiting for anything. I just can't find the time." "Right," he said, nodding. I glared at him.

Anonymous said...

Too funny Nate Dog! I'm guilty of shorter hemingway.

Jonyboy1234 said...

"Never, I have seen maladies such as these frequent my inky thoughts and scratched out upon the yielding parchment. Cold. Dead. Silent and err cold!!!" Yoda ejaculated.

Jet Harrington said...

...only darker, more visible...

Classic.

I'm in a chair.

Brilliant, creative examples for each one - the onomatopoeia of writing tics.

Jeff said...

Awesome. But. Now. I. Am. Frozen. In. Paranoia. Must. Play. Drinking. Game. With. My. Manuscripts.

Erin said...

That last one sounds a lot like the J.J. Abrams effect. Wait, did he write those Old Spice commercials?

Jenna Wallace said...

Absolutely brilliant!

And don't forget the sister to Description Overload: Adjective Overload

The cool blustery breeze blew the filmy white curtains that framed the perfectly square window in the small hot bedroom. On the shining brass bed was a folksy blue quilt...

Caleb J Ross said...

Definitely check out the Writing Badly Well blog for continued fun. http://writebadlywell.blogspot.com/

As for my own examples, I don't have any. However, in certain hands, some of the methods above can be defended. Jose Saramago, for example, overstuffs the creme right out of his sentences, and I love him for it.

THIS IS THE END said...

There's something to be said for style, but there's much more to be said for the price of it.

Monotony or confusion are definitely deal breakers.

I do think some of these styles are alright, in moderation, as long as they are "organic" in some way. If the writing/wording feels unnatural, it's disruptive. Yoda is almost always disruptive. But sometimes the run-on, overstuffed sentence is effective. (Especially if it breaks a monotony of otherwise short, bullet esque sentences that came before) Is this my own malady convincing me I don't have a malady?

I agree with the post and found it helpful. But I'm curious if there is ever a time and place for writing that slips into some of these "maladies"?

Lila Swann said...

Oh, Nathan, I just about fell out of my chair when you threw in "totes." I'm seventeen and I hear that word every day, along with every other "abrev" that we can come up with. I figured maybe some of your other tics were made up, but I really believe that you see "totes."

Jeanne said...

First time I've commented, though I have longtime a lurker been. (Ahem)

This is very educational and I agree with Anonymous/Jen who requested a reverse redline of a novel that works.

My writing pet peeve is found quite often on Facebook Wall Posts. It's Improper Abuse of the Comma, and yes, the writer is American:

"Oh, my God,,, I was their the other day,,, and I saw him,,,,, and i was like,,,"

It causes me to wonder exactly what, if anything, they are teaching in school nowadays.

Angela (Posy Moe) said...

I kind of see myself in the shorter Hemingway description. Which is sad. Even so, this was awesome. And funny. Seriously.

E. A. Provost said...

Thank you for the much needed laugh, and reminder.

Other maladies I've encountered:

Pronoun Paranoia: John Doe was afraid that if John didn't write Paul, Sarah, and Sue's names each time Paul, Sarah and Sue were referred to, then the reader wouldn't understand what John was writing about.

Word of the Day Syndrome: In which the author clearly has a Word-of-the-Day calendar and is experimenting with seldom used vocabulary. This usually causes the reader revert to "huh?"

And my personal tic:

Over-saturation with classical literature: In which I become so saturated with the works of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, et al. that my characters begin to speak in a manner unbefitting a modern American. I shall endeavor to mend my ways, but I fear it will not be possible without a great deal of editing.

Susan Cross said...

In the opening paragraph, I would add, "These maladies can be caused by excessive reading of poorly written books, eavesdropping at Starbucks located in downtown Seattle and ingesting dangerous chemicals. If you suffer from any of the symptoms described below contact Harry B. Harry, Attorney at Law. A class action lawsuit is being brought against bad authors, Starbucks and all companies that make and dispense products containing chemicals."

rhakla said...

"I'm in a chair."

*nearly snorts my Pepsi*

This is awesome.

Sheila Cull said...

I love Chatty Cathy! That made me laugh out loud. (Chatty Cathyism is what I'm now going to consider because after seeing what you wrote about Chatty Cathy, I had to resist using an exclamation point after the word loud, last word of the sentence. (!)

Jonyboy1234 said...

Aren't writers funny? They are always so willing to throw themselves onto their own literary swords. Guys! Just because someone hints that the reason you aren't published is because you may suffer from one of these 'diseases' it doesn't mean you are actually infected. You may not even be a carrier. "Rules is for breaking" Jonyboy exhaults. Ask Salinger.RIPx

jonyboy1234 said...

Oooops! It's gone all quiet. I'll get my coat.

Pamala Knight said...

Hilarious!!

madameduck said...

This is so spot-on! In revisionland now, and I hate to admit that I do almost all of these.

...I also have the ellipsis (and parentheses!!!) problem too.

...and apparently the multiple exclamation point one!!!

:)

Ted said...

Awesome.

Someone should turn this into a Youtube video, with the [commercial voice] narrating and appropriate authorly types reading the examples from a lectern.

greatwritingexperiment said...

hilarious

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Thanks for the laugh!

My editor just caught me out on the thats that I tend to stick in that sentence. Yeah. That one.

I almost cried I was that embarrassed.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

And a certain agent who we all know and love but isn't Nathan says you only get a couple of exclamation points per novel, so use them sparingly.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Bwaaaa-haaaa!!! ROTFLMAO!!!! Oops!!! Was that a verbal tic???? Too much slang or perhaps I should write a few run-on and/or confusing sentences ending with a non sequitur and using perhaps too few punctuation marks but like the blazes I shall try to resist. Going to the dogs lets not are you?

I love the Old Spice commercials - the best commercial to come along in ages. I don't know which ad guys decided to channel romance fantasies, but they are frakkin' geniuses.

A post to live by...

Joann Swanson said...

This post = pure awesome. (!!!)

I'm reading a novel right now with truckloads of internal dialog and this particular MC LOVES to ask herself questions. Or does she? Perhaps I'm being to harsh? Is it that readers truly are too dumb to see the lovely breadcrumb trails left by the author in all the descriptive passages? Do we really need all those clarifying questions JUST IN CASE WE MISSED IT THE FIRST TIME? Good book, unfortunate trust issues on the part of the author.

Joann Swanson said...

*too harsh. Sheesh.

johnny said...

I'm suffering from one malady that wasn't listed here. I write my novel like a report, from one long paragraph to another.

Ruth said...

I had planned to write a hefty amount of words tonight, but instead I will be healing my WIP. This post is the BOMB!

Kari said...

Sadly, I think I can diagnose many of the Romantic British writers with OSS (overstuffed sentence syndrome). I am trudging through Frankenstein right now, and when I actually come across a simple sentence, I almost die of happiness.

Reading should not be that way.

Catherine Lavoie said...

"...into totes every sentence" made me LOL. Like OMG!!
Thanks for the brilliant post! :)

RosieC said...

Clever and informative post. Thanks!

Steph Su said...

Also known as: things that many canonical writers have done, to their inexplicable great success.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Must you be so brilliant? Hurts the eyes, you know.

BTW, I interviewed the lovely KM Criddle today, and I needed sunglasses for that as well! She's awesome.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Must you be so brilliant? Hurts the eyes, you know.

BTW, I interviewed the lovely KM Criddle today, and I needed sunglasses for that as well! She's awesome.

Anonymous said...

The missing in action comma:
This setence probably needs no commas because even if I knew where to put them which I don't they would only make you the person who is reading this out loud miss a great oportunity for a laugh.
"Also" he said excitedly reaching out to turn on the light "did you know that commas make a difference in your quotation tags?"

Anonymous said...

Love the description of the period! When do we get a description of the exclamation point? So like a bat and all it is.

wordsareforwriting said...

Love this post!

Overstuffed sentences and adjective combos are my weakenesses.

Your Hemmingway impression was pretty good too!

Anonymous said...

Which charcter is it:
Jane and Janet are best friends and arch enemies of Janel and Jan.
They are all in love with John and Jared but can't stand Hared and Jarom.
Can you feel the pages flipping back and forth?

Tracy Hahn-Burkett said...

FABULOUS! (In caps. Of course.)

D.G. Hudson said...

Of course not. Never. Admit. Anything.

I don't believe in divulging my maladies.

Point taken on the writerly germs and the literary health of my writing. Didn't know I had to worry about those, too.

Anonymous said...

Shorter Hemingway and Chatty Cathy ! You're sooo..
like..whatevah!!!!! Funny !

Kristi Helvig said...

This was flippin' hilarious. Yoda rules!

Cathi Stoler said...

Wow, how'd you come up with all of those? They're great!
I think Tom Wolfe has the Chatty Cathy syndrome.

Sasha Vilchynskaya said...

LOL! This is hilarious, or as my friend would say - hysterical. Thanks for the post.

And I admit I'm guilty of Yoda effect and overstuffed sentences. Working on it.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Hope you don't mind, but since I absolutely loved this blog post (really, it made my day!)I posted it on my blog...er um, parts...and it is really flattering, and um thanks!http://kathrynpackerroberts.blogspot.com/

Kelly Wittmann said...

Just critiqued a manuscript that had so many caps and exclamation points, I thought I was going to go insane. I tried to be gentle, but...

kimberlymoore said...

A perfect marriage of showing and telling. If I was a writing teacher, I'd ask for permission to use this post. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Laughed so hard I cried...despite seeing my own tics thoroughly ridiculed. I'm keeping this on the desktop for revisions. Thanks.

Perry said...

The Negating Nellie.

This one talks like Hugh Grant.

It's almost but not quite, of course not that I don't love you.

Jen said...

Too funny! I'm printing this out...

Anonymous said...

Caleb J Ross, thanks for mentioning Saramago in this post. When I think of Saramago, I think story telling- sophisticated, intelligent, story-telling. I think camp-fire with experience. That is what a good book is. You nailed it with that mention.

Anonymous said...

Awesome. I started reading haughtily, judgementally. Until I got to Chatty Cathy. I ate humble pie somewhere around Shorter Hemingway, and hung my head in shame by Non Sequiturs.

Thanks Nathan!!! (just kidding about the !!!)

Anonymous said...

Talk about beating a dead horse. Blah..blah..

J. T. Shea said...

EFFECT YODA SUFFER FROM DO NOT I!!!!!!!!!

I never, ever, EVER repeat myself over and over and over and over again and again and again!

Shorter Hemingway? You mean Heming?

That period sounds dotty, Nathan, full stop.

TOM: Why are we talking like characters in a Stanley Kubrick movie?

JERRY: You think we're talking like characters in a Stanley Kubrick movie?

TOM: Yes, I think we're talking like characters in a Stanley Kubrick movie, echoing everything we say back to each other over and over and over again.

JERRY: So you're not Tom Cruise?

TOM: No, I'm not Tom Cruise. BUT YOU FORGOT TO ECHO MY LAST LINE!

JERRY: YOU may be talking like a character in a Stanley Kubrick movie, but I'm NOT! We're not in a Stanley Kubrick movie. Except maybe a Stanley Kubrick cartoon.

TOM: There are NO Stanley Kubrick cartoons. Unless you're a mouse. Are you a mouse?

JERRY: I am not a mouse. Now YOU forgot to echo! Are you a cat?

TOM: NO! I am neither a cat nor Tom Cruise! We're in a J. T. Shea comment on Nathan Bransford's blog and J. T. is just using us to fill up space because he can't think of a good overstuffed sentence or non-sequitur this late at night. (He lives in Ireland, a lush green land full of green lushness (and lushes) and lush greenness and comely maidens dancing at the crossroads with leprechauns and Irish Wolfhounds.)

JERRY: So, he lives in Riverdance.

THE END

Jennifer Swan said...

Confession - I just left a comment on your LOST/WTF post from Aug 5th. I was decidedly "chatty cathy". But it felt great!
Thanks,

Jennifer Swan

Michael said...

Nathan, old bean. This is one of your best, I'd say. By Jove! Yes, indeed. It certainly is.

MBA Jenna said...

Oh Nathan, so brilliant it drew me out of lurkerdom. How long did this take? It was worth it.

Laura Martone said...

Hilarious. Truly hilarious. And, yet, sadly apt as I prepare to revise my novel - and fix said novel of these very same tics. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

It's called the "Diablo Cody" syndrome.

John Jack said...

Tautology, a special species of repetition, repeating in different terms what's already been written, saying the same thing in a different way, beating them over the head three times to make sure they didn't miss it. Tautology between words or phrases or sentences.

He changed into a devilish demon on Kittanicos days, every ninth day of the Titian moon calendar. In his demon form he committed devilish acts most foul. His devilish acts earned him a reputation as a demon underlord.

Andrea Dale said...

This is hilarious, thank you!

BTW, Yoda speak = Engineering speak.
(What that means, I don't know, but it's intriguing....)

pattyjansen said...

I would add:

Stage directions.

The evil knight swung at the hero with his sword. The hero stepped back, and ducked, and hefted his own sword to about waist level. Could he escape? The main exit was blocked by two of the evil guy's henchmen, who stood on either side holding evil-looking scabbards. The guy on the right was clearly bored, picking his nose. The guy in the left watched the fight with a grim expression. No, both of these dudes were too strong for the hero to defeat.
There was a small set of stairs in the courtyard that led down into the kitchens. He could go down there, but he would have to shift the two bags of potatoes that blocked the entrance.
Meanwhile, the evil guy was still slashing at the hero with his sword--

Oh man, enough already! We're in the middle of a fight. There's no way anyone could notice this much detail!

This style comes to the fore in action scenes, and is characterised by inane amounts of description of minute details of scenery or minute details of actions.

Dana Fredsti said...

SNORK!!! You hurt my brain with this one... but hey, don't dis my Old Spice Guy. He supports libraries, y'know. :-)

Anne R. Allen said...

Yet another reminder that you are a writer as well as a literary agent. This piece is brilliant.

Rebecca Stanborough said...

This post has to be one of your best ever! Thanks--

bethanyward said...

I love this! Especially "I'm in a chair."

Anonymous said...

Pray ye, pattyjansen, put me in the scene. I want to fight!

Rick Daley said...

Inside Jokes: They are really funny to one reader. Me.

Linda Godfrey said...

I rather liked the over-description of the period. That is probably not a good thing, but I found it so entertaining that I would have read at least a few more paragraphs describing that colorfully black period.

My own worst verbal tic is beginning too many sentences with "however." I learned this hard way from my most recently edited ms. HOWEVER, I now use the "find" feature to hunt the H words down and either kill or capture and relocate the varmints.

Lee Rowan said...

Bookmarked. But where? In writing? Humor? Other blogs?

Your apotheosis of the period is sublime. I can't wait for you to tackle the exclamation point!

Nikki Hayes said...

Ah, you missed the great series of adventures in the life of a period!

There's the period itself, but sometimes it brings along its buddies... Sometimes it hikes up to the top of the cliff; sometimes it falls off and brings half the cliff with it! Sometimes it plays games which leave the attuned reader in a constant state of "?". And rarely, you see it playing leapfrog...:

Anonymous said...

"Repetition" has put me into a pleasant hypnotic state, it has. Ohmmmmm...

Linda Godfrey said...

Actually there are a couple of tics that drive me nuts when reading. I am sure I have also sinned -- and still do -- in these ways:

Awful alliteration is always annoying.

The grating over-use of pet words -- surely an author is allowed only one use of muzzy and/or muzzily per book -- grates gratingly on me.

When too many sentences are written in passive mode, books are abandoned by bored readers.

Anna said...

I'm dying. Wunderbar.

Anna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bron said...

Yep, guilty of a few of these, especially Ink's Uncertainty Effect. I'd like to add one more:

Backstoryitis - Particularly common on the first page of a manuscript, the main symptom is an excessive inclusion of backstory. This malady leaves the reader confused about timelines and wondering why the author started at this point in the first place. Treatment? Slashing and burning.

I suffered from this one in spades on my first WIP. I'd like to think I'm getting better.

Becca said...

Well according to this, I might need to be committed.

Delia said...

Has anyone told you yet that this was funny?

I torture my readers with overstuffed sentences which alternate with the Hemingway effect in a quirky little way that would most accurately be described as annoying. I'm working on it. Truly.

Do you think Isaiah Mustafa will ever really come to terms with having spent all those years playing pro football only to be remembered as The Old Spice Guy?

Terri Coop said...

@Marisa: I agree with dialogue-tag-itis. Especially when aggravated by adverbiosis.

The best one ever was in a crit workshop. An epic fantasy. One of the characters was a sentient horse alien (roll with it). The sentence went something like,"we are safe," nickered Caballo.

I have to confess, I suffer from ellipse-i-osis in social media settings. Sometimes, it just seems so appropriate . . .

I would also like to point out the scrouge of poetry-sclerosis:

The sun set across the plain in a burst of color agonizing to the eye as if ten thousand shades of some unimaginable spectrum from a forgotten dimension has been rescued from oblivion by a mad artist.

It was dawn again by the time the writer finished describing the sunset.

Best. Post. Ever.

Terri
www.whyifearclowns.com

KeithTax said...

Got it. All of it. I'll even use some of it. Someday.

mishellbaker said...

I would probably laugh much harder at this post if "Repetition" didn't read so much like most of my first drafts. It's only funny when it's some other writer that sucks!

Seriously though, woke the baby laughing.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

ROFL! Seriously. Okay, not on the floor, but laughing nonetheless. I read this post backwards because I saw Old Spice Guy and just HAD to read. (Chatty Cathy much? Yeah, sorry.)

But my point is that you, Nathan, need to put this post in a book, surround it with similar genius, and package it for me, the writing-how-to book collector. It would be my proudest tome. Seriously.

Beth said...

This made me laugh. A lot.

scottwbaker.net said...

Now I want to write an Old Spice Guy story. Not a story, a poem, a bad poem that is only poetic because I say it is. But the world will love it and beat a path to my window. That's right, window. You thought it would be a door but it was not, for they cannot see through the door to bask in my brilliance. And bask they will until their eyeballs boil and spill to the ground. From that eyeball puddle will grow a tree and carved into that tree shall be the poem. And it will smell glorious.

Or maybe not.

Brad said...

This is brilliant!

Although I think it shows what a Star Wars geek I am, because your Yoda sayings, understand easily, did I.

Justajo said...

My fave overstuffed-on-purpose sentence writer: The Mogambo Guru
Never fails to crack me up.

Ishta Mercurio said...

HA-HA-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

Nathan, you are KILLING me! my face is going to take twice as long to heal. Two fantastically hilarious posts this close together IS too much to get without a little karmic balance, I guess.

My eyes are tearing. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

You're an absolutely terrible man. Because of that last "malady," I just spent an hour of my life watching Old Spice videos on YouTube. <3 Isaiah Mustafa

Claire Dawn said...

I am saving this forever! Using it every time I edit from now on.

SWK said...

Hilarious, this post. Save it, I will :)

Emily Cross said...

It's a bad sign when I can see all of them. . .


my verification word is mating. . .

Argh, even the blog gods know i'm single. bastards.

Wiley C. said...

I'm definitely an overstuffer. I need an injection of the Hemingways from someone.

Great post! (I lolled.)

Frances said...

I recently wrote a short story, an historical set in Ireland in 1866. It's enough to say it was a 'hide the razor blades' type of tale. My problem was with the use of the homonym, or near homonym, to hilarious effect. I trapped three people in the kitchen and made them read. Two were happy with the story in a sad kind of way. The third burst out laughing..."Mary kept laying hens, and sold the eggs at the crossroads." He just couldn't get past Mary laying the hens and how does a woman do that? Another example I've read is a man in a supermarket being chased through the isle of crisps. I suppose he hit a double whammy, spelling and homonym.

Elie said...

Funniest post ever. Hemingway in particular. In particular, I say.
Ever read Raymond Queneau, Exercises In Style?

Melanie Avila said...

Love.This.

I'm in a chair will be my new phrase.

Emma said...

I suppose I suffer the most from one malady - which isn't listed here (though it's probably a complication of overstuffed sentences) - which I like to call hypertangential subclauseitis - I've always enjoyed making up pseudo-words - sometimes to the point at which I can no longer remember which parts of my vocabulary (which has had the power to scare teachers since I was eight years old) are real and which are made up (although of course all words are made up in the end) - a habit which I inherited from my mother - this malady involves being so incapable of deciding which details to omit - after all, every detail is sacred (speaking of ejaculation as we were) - that I end up with a sentence which, were it written in a coding language - such as javascrapit or html (javascript, incidentally, is a bitch - yes, I appreciate that that's a little bit like a workman blaming her tools - for this) or any other tag-based language - it would have to end with several rows of indented hyphens and parenthesis just to ensure that all subclauses were correctly closed out - although it has to be said that I'm getting very good (well alright, quite good) at doing this automatically.

TimR-J said...

Great list!

Didn't JJ Abrams make an entire career of the Old Spice Effect?

Josin L. McQuein said...

You can't call it the Old Spice Guy effect unless he was on a horse, backward. ;-P

Dayana Stockdale said...

that made my day

Robert said...

Delicious AND nutritious.

Thanks.

K. M. Walton said...

LOVE the Old Spice Guy one and of course Yoda. I love laughing out loud in the morning, thanks Nathan.

GhostFolk.com said...

Dashes.

Clara Rose said...

Make me laugh, you do!

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

ROFL!!!! OMG - thank you for that awesome start to my day!!!! :) e

Ann M said...

I wasn't able to read this until Wed. morning, but in a way I'm glad - what a wonderful way to start the day! Thanks, Nathan, for being so informative while also being so hilarious.

DRC said...

Love it...xx :D

Catherine A. Winn said...

I'd laugh harder, but, well...I saw me in there.

SJBell said...

Reminds me of a yoda image macro that, unfortunately, is obscene and can't be posted here.

Seriously, though, this kind of stuff comes up a lot in my work, but I'm usually able to spot it and root it out on revision. Which suggests that maybe the root cause is that people don't revise their work.

Taymalin said...

Is there a cure for Shorter Hemmingway? I'm definitely a sufferer. Though, it's cleared up a bit in recent months.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Wonderful. Simply wonderful.

Chuck H. said...

No! Just! No!

(Well, maybe just a little.)

Courtney said...

Awesome post, Nathan. I, too, am in a chair.

:-)

Blacksheep Bliss said...

I love the Old Spice commericals analogy! OMG, ROTFL, LOL, THANKS FOR THE LAUGH!!!!!!

Ilana DeBare said...

Wonderful! Reads like you had fun doing this.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

How about an utter lack of interiority?

Meaning, it's the end of the novel, one of the penultimate scenes! You've been building toward this scene the entire novel!

And then when the character gets there, they have absolutely no thoughts, perspectives, opinions, musings, realizations, nothing. It's like when someone's angry, like after a party, and they're driving home, and A asks: "What's wrong?" and B says "Nothing," instead of "you were flirting with C all night," or something like that. The silent treatment.

I think a novel really suffers when you unintentional structure it as:
Chapters 1-19 What's Wrong?
Chapter 20 Nothing.

I mean, if that's how you MEANT to end your novel - but if it's because you just haven't gotten inside your character's head enough, to know what they would be thinking...aargh...

I guess this is more of a plot malady than a writing malady...

Robert Michael said...

Everything I ever wanted to know about writing I learned from Yoda, the Old Spice Guy and Hemingway. Oh, and JJ Abrams.

Nice. Like, gag me with a period (spoon)!!! ACHH!

Best post evah! Brilliant!!

BonSue Brandvik said...

A lesson taught with humor is more likely to be remembered than one preached. Great post. Here's one more malady to consider:

The Unfinished Thought...
This happens when a character is distracted... or constantly interrupted... and never quite finishes a sentence... or thought... necessitating an endless... or almost endless... stream of dots... or other punctuation... or characters... that help us understand... or read... without ever spelling out the actual point... or thought.

Anonymous said...

Funny.

We should also exercise vigilance against viral imprecision's over-educated cousin, Vague Plague, a complex and insidious mutation with a particular predilection for academic writing, the effect of which is to hopelessly obscure a simple point with meaningless modifiers....

Dara said...

Love this! I am going to print off a copy to share with my crit group!

Scott said...

Gosh I bet that was a fun post to write. Still chuckling to myself about the Old Spice effect.

Lacy Boggs said...

This is FANTASTIC. But the really interesting part is that a clever writer can use most of these techniques to good effect. It's only when they're overdone that they become plague-tastic.

Kay Richardson said...

Forsooth, I use the word 'verily' too often. But I am a man of 314 years.

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