We’ve all read books that have lost our attention at some point. As a writer, I’ve often wondered why that is–what makes me lose interest. Thanks to my mentor, A.M. Dellamonica, I’ve discovered that certain writing techniques leech the life from prose. I like to think of them as vamps or baby vamps that kill good writing.
Top 7 Vampires of Prose:
1. Passive voice:
This style is most comonly used by insurance companies and contracts to make responsibilities vague. It wears thin if used in stories, unless its use is conscious. Here’s a definition of passive voice.
2. Overuse of the verb ‘to be’:
Often accompanying passive voice, each instance of the verb ‘to be’ pulls the reader out of the immediacy of the moment, blanching their experience of the story.
3. Adverbs (ending in ‘ly’):
Think of these as the Edward Cullens of prose. They may appear harmless and sparkly, but they suck the life from your work. Pretend you’re Buffy and stake these through their wimpy, sparkly little hearts. Oh, that Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James had enough respect for their readers to do this! Just saying!
Not all gerunds are bad. I’m talking about the sleazy wingmen of the verb ‘to be’ who hang around waiting for sloppy seconds. “He was loitering in the bar, admiring his glossy fingernails, waiting for her.”
Words like rather, very, little, pretty, almost, somewhat, some, seems. Qualifiers pull the reader out of your story.
These are baby vamps! Search and destroy them before they devour your offspring.
This vampire creeps up on me, ugly like Nosferatu. But repetition is one of the hardest vamps to kill. Some authors use it well, but that’s rare. Repetition doesn’t have to be repeating words. It can also be re-stating the same idea several different ways, or overusing a pet phrase.
7. Fillers like Then, Suddenly, And then, again.
All right, these may not be full-fledged vamps. Think of them as fleas that could grow into vamps if overfed. Use sparingly.
For more information on things that drain your writing, see: 8 Terms that Suck the Life out of your writing, and 4 Writing Crutches that Insult the Reader’s Intelligence.
How about you? What are your pet peeves as a reader? If you are a writer, no doubt you’ve come upon these yourself. Do you have any tips for removing them?