Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Common Problems (Part 1 of 50)

For six years I taught mentoring clinics. I varied their length, but at first they lasted from three days and finally down to one full day, so I could work individually with writers. I found the same problems occurring in many manuscripts.

Eventually I developed a list of common problems. These are the weaknesses that I saw repeatedly. As I deal with them in this series, some will include items I've mentioned in previous blogs, because I still see the same weaknesses.

Avoid purple prose writing. This is a long-used term that refers to extravagant overwriting. It usually refers to descriptions that call attention to themselves. I see this in the writings of insecure writers who are afraid to use simple state-of-being verbs like is, are, and were. So they try to paint pictures with excessive expressions.

The writers want to sound powerful and dramatic, but the sentences become melodramatic and over-the-top prose. Here are a few examples from my students:

• He struggled to tame the pounding wave of thoughts that threatened to blur his focus.

• His throat tightened as fear swept over his brother's face like the shadow they chased across the field behind their house when an airplane flew over.

• The light of day kept my loneliness in the shadows of my mind, but as soon as the lights were out, my thoughts went to that despair.

•The air kept the stillness captive as men held their breath in anticipation.

• Rapidly firing her digital camera, she captured the dress rehearsal fever staining the cheeks of several antsy actors.

• Lib placed a hand over the traitorous butterflies coasting in her belly.

• Rand stood, mouth agape. He snapped his mouth shut. Jaw and neck muscles bulged as he stormed out.

The best writing is the most easily understood.
The meaning is obvious and the words are simple.


  1. Years ago I enjoyed a wonderful 3-day intensive with you, Cec. A couple years later at a conference, you used one of my sentences as an example of a common problem. I was *thrilled* to be quoted by the one and only Cecil Murphey, even if it was for what I did wrong. It was an honor just the same. One of these days you'll quote me for what I wrote correctly. ((Hugs))

  2. I'm taking a college course right now on Professional Writing. One weekly assignment requires us to write a chapter summary from one of our textbooks - and we are not allowed to use is, are, were words.

    If only academics would listen to Cec's advice - the world might not be filled with such convoluted writing.

    Thankfully, this professor seems to be on the "other side" from all the academics - he just wants us to see the difference in styles.

    I'm looking forward to this series. Thanks for writing it!

  3. I look forward to reading more in this series. One of many lessons I learned in your writing class, was that less is more. Don't try so hard. That was a great lesson!! Thanks:)

  4. I am so excited with the beginning of this series Cec. Clella

  5. Trembling, like the ever watchful cobweb that fluttered over my mind's eye remembering the childhood barn where I so often escaped the tragedy that was my fate, I typed this sentence.


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