Writing Tips

What Is Your Stylistic Device?

style photoby Patience Bloom

I’ve written and read a lot, mostly critically. Over the years, I’ve wanted to bring up style issues, and I’m guilty of the crimes outlined below. I might as well confess to my sins and those I’ve observed in other guilty parties. You know who you are. Can you relate to any of these? Please fess up.

Sisters of the Semicolon: Is it a fancy comma? A real sentence? I don’t know; really. Some pepper entire books with them; incorrectly. With a complicated series, sure, you can use them. Some employ the mighty semicolon to add onto a sentence; thinking it’s really a comma. Not so fast, von Ryan*. There are rules for using a semicolon. If I see a semi-colon, I tend to stew over it. I don’t hate them; they just should be used sparingly. (I think that’s right)

One-sentence paragraphs bug me.

But I get why writers like them.

They create tension. Suspense.

Mostly, to me, they seem lazy.

Like trying to fill up the page with the least amount of effort.

And then the elephant jumped through the window.

Ecstatic for Ellipses: I was thinking…oh I don’t know…I’d like a Poptart, but…should I go to the deli or Duane Reade? The former might have…fresher ones…the frosted kind.

Conjunctionitis: And you thought I wouldn’t notice. But I do. Or rather, I don’t want to. And yet, on reality shows, most sentences in the narrations start with conjunctions: “And then this happened, and I had to call my manicurist for help. But she got a flat tire. [wa, wa, wa]” I take out those opening conjunctions as much as I can. But I’ll leave in a few.

Mostly Mozart: Too many notes (for shame!). Rick’s pizza was cold. Or: It would seem upon further elucidation that Rick’s pizza, ordered half an hour ago and delivered by a twelve-year-old who swerved all over the road–Rick saw him from his porch–had fallen short in the hotness department. Short can be sweeter, but I like Mozart too sometimes.

You Are Actually, Really Emphasizing: On an episode of Chopped, my husband and I noticed the number of times a chef said “really” within a minute: 5. It was really embarrassing, actually. When I see it in a manuscript, I tend to strike it.

Fragmentation: I used to like sentence fragments. Until now. I see them over and over again. Without warning. Where are those Poptarts again? On my desk. Half-eaten. Containing 8 essential vitamins and minerals. I think in fragments (I think) so it seems appropriate to read them throughout a book. Until my eyes start squawking. Then I wonder aloud, “Where are those long, sumptuous sentences, full of narrative power and really really great other stuff?” Fragments should be used sparingly or else they read like the one-sentence paragraph.

And those are my style thoughts this afternoon. Truly…

*I’m not advertising perfume. I just like this commercial.

17 thoughts on “What Is Your Stylistic Device?”

  1. Guilty! *sheepish*

    I minored in sociolinguistics in college and have transcriped and analyzed enough conversations that conjunctionitis is emblazed in my brain as the way people talk. I try to take the sentence-starting conjunctions out after the rough draft stage, but it’s hard to catch them all. Thank goodness for editors!

      1. Linguistics was my first love. Until I embraced my dream of being a writer, I was going to be Deborah Tannen, or at the very least, a sociolinguistics researcher/college professor. I’d never heard of linguistics until college and then I was like, “Wait…words have their own SCIENCE?!? Sign me up!” 🙂

  2. I use semi-colons quite a bit, but I’m fairly certain I do so correctly. Which still doesn’t make it right, of course. 🙂 And when I wrote my first book, a professional editor/writer friend pointed out that I started WAY too many sentences with the word “and.” Especially in dialogue. [See this sentence for proof I haven’t stopped completely, although I am much more aware of it these days.]

    As for “really”….let’s just say I’ve learned to go through the manuscript numerous times to remove the offending word. The only one I overuse more is “that.” Thank goodness certain editors still love me anyway….

      1. Well, admittedly, it is always easier to edit other people’s writing (which I occasionally do as a side-line, and more often as a favor for my published author friends who need another pair of eyes before they send something in). But I’ve gotten better at catching the basics, anyway.

  3. All good advice Patience. Thanks. I do many of those on occasions but it’s good to know I should keep my eyes open to using them too often. I will make sure to keep them in control when I submit my ten pages for your perusal at the NECRWA conference in April. Looking forward to meeting you.

  4. Oh no! Now I’m going to be paranoid about my punctuation and sentence structure! I hate semicolons and rarely use them. But I love starting sentences with conjunctions. And sentence fragments for emphasis or tension.
    I use one sentence paragraphs too.
    Zoiks! I’ll work on it, Patience!

    1. Oh, Beth–I’m sorry to make you paranoid. It’s okay to use them now and then, just not so much that an editor notices. You do a great job of editing your work. 🙂

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