Friday, November 21, 2008

Why is this sentence so bad?

Ah, Friday afternoon: every drop of motivation to work, or even pretend to work --evaporated; every ounce of restraint that normally prevents me lashing out at or raining blows upon my colleagues --spilled; every coagulation of cogent cogitation my enfeebled, boredom-addled, over-worried, and sleep-deprived brain was once capable of --bled out and scabbed over; and so I resort to copying things out of books:

"From over Araevin's shoulder, a pair of silver arrows streaked out and took the first of the insect fiends in the jaw, vanishing up to the feathers in its foul mouth." This is from Forsaken House a Forgotten Realms novel by Richard Baker, whose profession, I believe, is game designer first and novelist second.

Why is this sentence so bad? I'm brought up short first by 'the insect fiends.' I guess he doesn't have a better name to call them, perhaps because his Point-Of-View character doesn't know what their official Monster Manual name is, but 'the insect fiends' just doesn't sound right. I think 'creatures' would have been less obtrusive --would have sounded more like what you might name creatures that fell upon you in a dark dungeon hallway.

I also don't like 'streaked out,' and it's an example of general problem we'll see in the rest of this passage: too many prepositions/adverbials. Does the first part of the sentence work if you put it like this: "from over his shoulder arrows streaked out" They streaked out from over his shoulder? Do they really need to streak out? Don't they need to come from inside, or at least at something in order to go out from it? Yes, I think they do. We don't need the 'out' and we don't need both 'from' and 'over' either but I'd let them slide since they efficiently position everything in space.

I really don't like 'took the first . . . in the jaw' (which maybe I should have listed first). The 'took' does suggest a good arrow-like 'toonk' sound effect, but when you 'take someone' in their 'something', it really sounds sexual, and a little too vernacular --though, since I've only read this passage, I don't know if the vernacular diction level is what he intends.

And finally, 'foul mouth' really works against the sentence because you cant read it without being reminded of the expression 'foul-mouthed' --unless the insect fiends have been cussing (and maybe they have) it would be better to avoid suggesting it. Furthermore, did the arrows hit its jaw or its mouth? Did they go in from the side or from the front? And why is its mouth foul anyway? Did the character get a whiff of its breath? I guess I'm going to have to read back and find out.

Tune in next time when I --armed with better knowledge of the context-- nitpick the rest of the paragraph.

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