Today, in idiotic writing advice

A.K.A., why I am swearing off writing blogs:

Using active verbs to describe your characters’ actions can also help prevent awkward or flabby phrases. Early in James Joyce’s “The Dead,” for instance, “Gabriel could be seen piloting Freddy Malins across the landing.” Freddy isn’t “pulled along by the elbow,” nor is he “dragged by Gabriel across the landing” — instead, Gabriel “pilots” Freddy. This concise description instantly conjures up the image of one man directing another, but it also gives us a sense of Gabriel’s personality. He doesn’t guide or lead or assist Freddy; he pilots him. This active verb effectively sketches the characters’ movements, while simultaneously conveying Gabriel’s desire to steer people and events to suit his own purposes.”

(via shimmerzine)

“Piloting” is a gerund. A gerund in a passive voice sentence in as close to the subjunctive mood as you will get in English. That sentence is as cumbersome as all get out. If Gabriel actually piloted Freddy, that would be one thing. But he can be seen piloting. It’s Joyce, so I’m not criticizing the actual sentence. But I don’t think ‘write more like Joyce’ is particularly good advice to the aspiring writer.

My grammar is hardly spectacular. My adviser has, on a number of occasions, handed drafts back to me and said, with his eyebrows raised significantly, “I also included my little guide to the use of the comma for you.” And I still don’t know how to use a comma. But I, unlike the author of the above, do not write advice columns on how to write.

I have to write a grant today. I’m feeling a little punchy. Now where’s that bag of commas for me to toss about liberally, as my friend Fiona would say, like so much confetti…

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~ by medievalness on October 25, 2011.

One Response to “Today, in idiotic writing advice”

  1. I definitely agree. That’s a horrible example sentence, and totally cumbersome. My grammar’s mostly culled from reading lots of things, so I had to rely on foreign languages to teach me grammatical structures. I also know EXACTLY what you mean about the drafts. Hope your grant is successful!

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