How to Stay Clear of the Three C’s

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, or perhaps it’s just that I don’t have as much patience these days, but when I decide to add a new book to my ‘Want-To-Read’ list, it’s because that book has passed my Three C’s test. And no, I’m not referring to the business model developed by organisational theorist Kenichi Ohmae, I’m talking about that bane of every budding writer’s life:Or put it another way bloke copy

  • Clunky
  • Clumsy
  • Clichéd

So, just to clarify, let me define these terms, cos I bet you’re thinking clunky and clumsy are pretty much the same aren’t they? No, they aren’t.

Clunky

This is where a writer gets bogged down in a piece of dialogue, narrative or whatever and produces something like this:

Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karar gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier applique.

(Dan Brown)

Okay, we get it – he’s got a big ring, we don’t need an analysis. A bit of pertinent editing would fix this slightly run-away description, and to be fair, you’d expect best-selling authors to know better, but it just goes to show. Admittedly, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (from which this extract is taken), but writing in such a decidedly clunky way, constantly disrupted my reading.

Clumsy

By this I mean the way some writers put too many words in, use the wrong words or write sentences the wrong way around. This extract is from a free ebook that reads pretty well for the most part, except for things like this:

I heard that he and his Mum were really poor, like dirt poor, so I try to do my best to not talk about the latest gadgets Dad got for me when I was around him.

Not a terrible sentence, but the second part would read better as:

…so when I’m around him, I try not to talk about the gadgets my Dad buys me.

Sometimes the best way to spot things like this is by reading your work aloud. This makes it easier to hear the bits that don’t fit, are too rambling, or are just plain wrong.

Clichéd

Most of us are familiar with this one, but it’s all too easy to let one of the little buggers slip by if we’re not careful:

It was easy to see how he’d let things slide. Having got his feet under the table with the little woman, he’d allowed her to get the upper hand. Being born on the wrong side of the tracks, he’d often let his mind wander back to those halcyon days when the nights were long and summer seemed to last forever.

Okay, so I made that one up and maybe it’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. Clichés aren’t always a bad thing, though – if you can turn one on its head and create something new, they can work quite well:

That old nugget ‘Fur coat and no knickers’ might give us:

No coat and fur knickers

Or

Crew-cut and faux knickers

I’m not saying either of these are the literary equivalent of magic beans, just that shifting things around can be useful.

And on that note, Abyssinia, TTFN, Ta-ra for now, goodnight and good luck…etc.

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