And we come to self-editing tip #10. According to my notes, this will be the final Self-Editing Series post for awhile… I may run more at a future date, but this is the last in this series. If you’ve missed any of the posts or want to refresh your memory, here’s the full series of posts in one handy-dandy list!
- Self-Editing #1: Beginning and Doing
- Self-Editing #2: Character Description
- Self-Editing #3: Color, Color, Everywhere..
- Self-Editing #4: Floating Body Parts
- Self-Editing #5: Say It, Don’t Think It
- Self-Editing #6: Be Wise, Italicize
- Self-Editing #7: Redundant Pleonasms
- Self-Editing #8: You’re Not Nora
- Self-Editing #9: Unqualified Words
- Self-Editing #10: Got Clones?
So… on to today’s topic!
You might have read the title and thought… “Oh, another topic on characters!”
Er, I apologize for possibly leading you astray. You see, I’m not writing about characters at all, but rather the actions that they do over the course of a story. Particularly in certain sentences.
The key term here is simultaneous action. That means having your character do two things at the same that are physically impossible to do at the same time.
Unless your character has a clone, these sentences need to go (and if your character does have a clone, you’re probably going to want to mention that…).
How do you find these sentences?
As you’re reading through your manuscript, stop at every sentence that begins with a participle (that’s an –ing word, for you non-grammarophiles… yep, that’s right, I just made that word up right now).
Here’s an example of simultaneous action that’s physically impossible (this example is from Kelly Mortimer’s Grammar Guide, so please credit her if you use this info on your own blog):
“Pulling out of the driveway, he drove down the street.”
The simultaneous actions are in red. These verbs tell us the character was leaving the driveway AND driving down the street at the same time. Impossible, right? Here’s the correction:
“He pulled out of the driveway, then drove down the street.”
Let’s try one more example from my morning-addled brain:
Incorrect: “Cheering on her husband as he slid into home plate, Kristi asked Sarah about her fiancé’s job promotion.”
Correct: “Kristi cheered as her husband slid into home plate, then turned to Sarah to ask a pressing question.”
Kristi can’t cheer and ask a question at the same time—it’s physically impossible.
Make sense? I think many of us write sentences like these in the first draft because we want to keep the action moving. Placing verbs in this way gives a false sense of continuous motion, when really what’s happening simply can’t be happening without the help of character clones walking around and doing things for the real character. In which case, you’re likely writing a Sci-Fi novel and have other things to worry about. Like, when will the clones realize they’re the clones and not the real person, and try to kill off the main character? I’m betting you’d rather worry about that than simultaneous action. Seriously.
So… how’s your character doing? Been in two places at once recently?
Or possibly attacked by a murderous clone that plans to take over your life? (You might want to get some help for that…)