It's been awhile since I went back to the basics, and started my own version of a writer's ABC's. I started here: A is for Amateur, B for Bathtub. Now, thanks to John Gardner's classic book, The Art of Fiction, I'm back with letter C.
My choice for C? Well, C is for...clumsy. Clumsy as in clumsy writing. Thank you, Mr. Gardner, for helping me see more of my mistakes, and where I still miss the mark in my writing!
"Clumsy writing," Gardner says, "is...(a) common mistake in the work of amateurs, though it shows up even in the work of very good writers...(it) alienates the reader, or at very least makes it hard for him to concentrate on the fictional dream, and undercuts the writer's authority."
Gardner goes on to identify forms of clumsiness:
1. inappropriate or excessive use of the passive voice
2. inappropriate use of introductory phrases containing infinite verbs ("sentences that begin with such phrases as 'Looking up slowly from her sewing, Martha said...' The introductory infinite-verb phrase chops the action into fits and starts and loses what effectiveness it might have had.")
3. shifts in diction level or the regular use of distracting diction
4. lack of sentence variety
5. lack of sentence focus
6. faulty rhythm
7. accidental rhyme
8. needless explanation
9. careless shifts in psychic distance (meaning "...the distance the reader feels between himself and the events in the story, e.g. 'It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway' When p.d. is great, we look at the scene as if from far away, remote, formal.")
Each of these categories is a study in and of itself, but on this latest read-through of my WIP, I'm concentrating on #s 4 and 6--sentence variety and rhythm.
Is there a category of "clumsiness" in your writing that you've had to concentrate on more than any other?