Read that headline again. Can you spot the mistake?
Okay, it’s not a mistake, per se, but it’s something that newer writers do all the time, and professional writers don’t.
At least, you don’t see it in published work very often, because editors cut it out like a malignant growth.
It’s the two-part structure of a sentence, the first being a percursor to action, the second being action itself. Sometimes the two parts connect, sometimes not (as in, “Adjusting his tie, he watched the two cars collide.” Not good).
It’s a tense thing and a passive vs. active thing… a present/passive tense, followed by a past-tense that is in context to the overall narrative. “Waiting, he clung to hope.” Present/passive, past.
Doesn’t work. At least not well enough.
Again, it’s not technically wrong, but if you want your work to hit home on a first read — and thus be perceived as something more evolved than a newbie — avoid these bad sentences at all costs.
Here are some examples of this little stumble in action… and then, in italics, the same intention rewritten in a more professional, or at least palatable — way.
Checking to see if anyone was watching, he took a seat next to her.
He sat next to her after checking to make sure nobody would see.
Admiring herself in the mirror, she smiled as the telephone rang.
She was smiling at what she saw in the mirror when the telephone suddenly rang.
Sitting up in alarm, Beth pulled the covers under her chin and screamed.
She screamed. Loud and piercing, the sound muffled by the blanket she’d pressed to her face.
Dropping to her knees, she rested her forehead against the granite slab.
She dropped to her knees, resting her head against a granite slab as she wept tears of regret after writing the sentence the wrong way earlier.
An overhead light flickered, bathing the room in alternating levels of light.
The room danced with shadows cast by a fickering overhead light.
Momentarily pausing, they allowed an elderly man hobbling behind a walker to pass.
They paused to allow an octegenarian piloting a walker to pass.
*** (End of examples, back to my little rant.)
You can get away with a few of these, but that doesn’t often happen because writers who opt for this structure tend to overkill it. It’s like a speech pattern that gives away one’s lack of formal eduction… the orator doesn’t hear it, but everyone else does.
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, don’t sweat this… yet.
Just be sure to go back and kill these gremlins once December arrives. Otherwise, begin to notice as you hatch them, and realize that this is a fly swimming in your otherwise delicious soup.
Scoop it out before company arrives and nobody will know the difference.