As my client base grows, so does my exposure to different writing styles. Some automatically show instead of tell, use active verbs and sensory details, while some do not, and most fall into the category that uses a combination of all styles. It is in this last category that I notice the majority of the authors add more prepositions in their stories than the first two.
Let me back up a bit. Prepositions are necessary. They normally come before a noun or pronoun and express relation to another word or clause. The most common prepositions are about, by, up, as, to, for, in, on, of, from, into, and with. A Google search for preposition list will result in a full list from reputable sources.
While prepositions are a must fiction authors do not want to rely on them too heavily. A few reasons are wordiness, slows the pace, tells instead of shows, lacks imagery details.
See this example: Prepositions are italicized.
Not one to complain, Liza, found she wasn’t up to the task of babysitting her one-year-old twin nieces, let alone with a teen who needed more attention than the babies.
Revised: Liza prided herself on her ingenuity but babysitting her one-year-old twin nieces and their teen sister strained her limits as a seasoned caregiver.
Notice the message is the same. However, we see Liza in a different light. By putting her name first, noting her good qualities, it’s understandable when she experiences problems with three nieces. The sentence flows better. The use of descriptive words explains Liza’s personality and her expertise as a babysitter.
So what should an author do?
Writing fiction involves a combination of techniques. All active voice doesn’t work. It would be like creating a novel of only dialogue. It’s doable, but we miss the experience of the characters. Passive voice is necessary when the scene calls for it, but overuse has the reader walking away. Likewise, only telling with little use of sensory details makes the story boring. Adding each style into the novel creates the masterpiece you’ve envisioned.
When should the author tell, using the pesky prepositions noted here?
If you’re paying attention to your characters and the plot, the story reveals those places. Think of stressful situations. The heroine worries over the fact her true love disappeared in the middle of a storm a month ago and has shown up on her doorstep with amnesia. Or the villain’s victim talks out his plight as he works to secure his freedom. The villain gloats over his genius, which becomes his downfall. Or think of the character. The male hero’s inner thoughts are spoken differently than his female counterpart.
How will the author omit too many prepositions?
Editing. Self-editing is your first step. Set aside that this is your baby, your masterpiece. It may be, but if readers must wade through fluff, stuff, tangents, etc. to get to the meat of the plot, it doesn’t matter how great of a writer you are.
Read aloud. Begin at the end and move toward the beginning. Use techniques that keep your brain from automatically seeing what you think, when, in fact, it’s not really there.
Question if that sentence is needed, should it be moved instead of omitted, rewritten, shortened, lengthened. Make marginal notes.
Once you have completed these tasks, then edit. Choose what to focus on. For this post, we’re omitting wordiness through the use of prepositions.
How does the author do that?
Replace prepositions, as much as possible with verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. My example sentences above lowered the use of prepositions from 5 to 2. Notice the verbs are active voice and without the use of ING verbs or helper verbs such as, had, would, etc.
When in doubt, review websites like Writer’s Digest for assistance. The link here is one I give to most authors. The post is titled: The Art of Seduction… Writing at its best entices your readers.
Don’t rely on just one yourself or one blog. Review as many as possible. Turn to your critique partners and beta readers. Have one person look specifically for sentences with prepositions. Trust your editor. If you don’t have one, find one. Even if you only request a partial edit and have a specific need, an editor is usually happy to assist you.
Take all feedback to heart and put on your big–boy or girl pants and revise.