It’s been a while since I did a writing advice post, and I just came across this post via Cat Rambo’s twitter feed. The Turkey City Lexicon is a collection of terms that help define some common pitfalls in science fiction, as seen and defined by a number of SF voices, including some of those who were integral to the creation of the cyberpunk subgenre.
Sadly, most (if not all) of these pitfalls are still common in SF today, so it’s worth reading to see where you might be able to tighten up your prose.
And just to prove I have some ability for self-criticism, here are some I know slip into my work (hopefully most of it is stamped out before publication, but maybe not:
“Burly Detective” Syndrome
This useful term is taken from SF’s cousin-genre, the detective-pulp. The hack writers of the Mike Shayne series showed an odd reluctance to use Shayne’s proper name, preferring such euphemisms as “the burly detective” or “the red-headed sleuth.” This syndrome arises from a wrong-headed conviction that the same word should not be used twice in close succession. This is only true of particularly strong and visible words, such as “vertiginous.” Better to re-use a simple tag or phrase than to contrive cumbersome methods of avoiding it.
The mis-use of the present participle is a common structural sentence-fault for beginning writers. “Putting his key in the door, he leapt up the stairs and got his revolver out of the bureau.” Alas, our hero couldn’t do this even if his arms were forty feet long. This fault shades into “Ing Disease,” the tendency to pepper sentences with words ending in “-ing,” a grammatical construction which tends to confuse the proper sequence of events. (Attr. Damon Knight)
An artificial verb used to avoid the word “said.” “Said” is one of the few invisible words in the English language and is almost impossible to overuse. It is much less distracting than “he retorted,” “she inquired,” “he ejaculated,” and other oddities. The term “said-book” comes from certain pamphlets, containing hundreds of purple-prose synonyms for the word “said,” which were sold to aspiring authors from tiny ads in American magazines of the pre-WWII era.
An unseemly compulsion to follow the word “said” with a colorful adverb, as in “‘We’d better hurry,’ Tom said swiftly.” This was a standard mannerism of the old Tom Swift adventure dime-novels. Good dialogue can stand on its own without a clutter of adverbial props.
Check out the full list here, along with introductions from both Lewis Shiner and Bruce Sterling.