Friday, July 27, 2012

The Writing Mistake That Has No Name

Vacation is over. It lasted longer than we expected because we missed our connection in New York and got stuck there for 24 hours. It was one of those increasingly rare instances where the airline took responsibility for the delay and gave us a hotel room. Thank goodness they did, although they did everything in their power to infuriate us before they actually handed it over.

Once we were finally ensconced in the room though, it was heaven. I was so exhausted that we ate lunch and then I fell into a deep, deep sleep for who knows how long. After dinner I still managed to sleep through the night with no trouble at all.

Our flight back had few troubles, and I slept for the long car ride home too, and then I slept in this morning. I feel sorry for my husband, who not only drove home while I slept, but also had to get up before me this morning so he could head back to work. I don't think he took a nap at the hotel room either, although I guess I don't know for sure. Elephants could have been tap dancing next to me and I wouldn't have noticed. I feel like it's my duty to be as rested as possible when he gets home. J

Last week, I blogged about my trip to the libraries near my sister's house. The selection was amazing, so I picked up a few books I'd never heard of. I nearly always end up picking YA or Middle Grade Fantasy, but I just couldn't resist a few books from the adult section. I'm not going to name any names (I can't remember the name of the book I plan to talk about anyway. It's driven me crazy all morning!) but the genre was christian-based romance.

(Figuring out how to find free pictures to use on-line took up
most of my morning. This is the best site I found.)

I've tried reading this type of book before, and something in the writing almost always bugs me. This was true long before I became someone whose inner editor won't shut up long enough for me to enjoy a good book, so you can imagine what it's like now. On the plus side, I think I put my finger on what isn't working for me in those stories.

I tried to google my findings to see if there was a name for what I'm talking about. I think it has something to do with point of view and dialogue, or maybe exposition. It goes something like this: (ignore all the other problems with these paragraphs and only notice the problem I want you to. J)

Alice hurried of the store nearly fifteen minutes later. She put her hand to her mouth to stifle her laughter. "What happened to you?" Jake was covered from head to toe in silly string. If it hadn't been for his piercing blue eyes, she might not have recognized him at all.


Alice squealed in delight. "Are those for me?" Jake stood before her, carrying at least three dozen red roses.

Did you catch the main underlying problem here?

I'm reading in Alice's point of view, and yet Alice is talking about something I don't know about until several sentences later. I only elected to finish one of the books filled with this type of writing, and I ended up skimming it. In fact, it really lends itself to skimming, because my eyes jumped ahead to figure out what she was talking about, and then I didn't bother going back to fill in the missing pieces.

This is one way to fix the problem:
Alice hurried out of the store fifteen minutes later. She stopped short, staring at Jake, who was covered from head to toe in silly string. If it hadn't been for his piercing blue eyes, she might not have recognized him at all. Putting her hand to her mouth to stifle her laughter, she said, "What happened to you?" 
Same poorly written story, but at least I feel like I'm seeing things at the same time that Alice is, and not several seconds later.

So, dear Prosers--have you ever noticed this kind of writing before? I'm curious to know if it bothers you. Have I been stuck reading one genre for so long that the styles of other genres seem wrong to me now? Whether this is a mistake or a valid style choice, I'm wondering if it has a name...


  1. I have no idea whether or not it has a name, but I think it's more of a style choice than a mistake. That sort of thing doesn't bother me as long as it doesn't happen paragraph after paragraph. When done properly and sparingly, it can foment momentary curiosity with satisfaction delivered quickly. Of course, if it makes the reader too curious, they are indeed likely to skim ahead. Double-edged sword perhaps?

    Glad to hear you survived your vacation!

    1. It would depend on the nature of the book too. If the only thing keeping the readers interest are these little snippets of suspense, something larger than this style choice might be wrong.

  2. No, you're not imagining it. It's poor paragraph structure, in a way.
    I don't know if there's a name for it either. You should invent one and copyright it. :) Like.... fore-dialoguing? (like foreshadowing). Or.... microshadowing? (like very slight foreshadowing?)

    I really like Wikimedia Commons for free photos. Their selection is limited in some areas, but on each page they explicitly spell out the permissions for the particular photo. It's where I found that photo of the house that looks like it's rising from the ground.

  3. I've read a lot of books that do this. It used to bug me to no end, but I hardly even notice it anymore. (Now I'm going to notice it all the time.) I think authors who do this think of it as a style choice, but it's just annoying.

  4. I have seen this problem discussed before, but only once, and it was editing advice written by an editor. Excellent advice all around, check out the link.

    She called it "writing the reaction before the causal action.”

    And yes it bugs me too. Definitely something to avoid unless there is a good reason for it.

    1. That's a great link, MaryAnn. Thanks. Perhaps I should comment on it and let her know the new name for it is "microshadowing."

  5. I don't think it's all that bad of a writing style. It pulls you forward through the paragraph. You read on quickly because you want to know what elicited the reaction, "What happened to you?"

    It works for me.


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