June 25th, 2011

Wicked Writing Wrongs #4: A Foolish Consistency

What?  You thought because last time I said you should be consistent that I meant all the time??

Come on.  You know me better by now, don’t you?

Think of Emerson:  “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  You don’t want to be foolish, do you?

Don’t you feel all educated already?  A quote from Emerson, no less!

While #5 was the error of not being consistent, here I’m talking about being too consistent.  Yes, it is possible.  And the easiest way to notice it is to read your writing aloud.  (No, you don’t have to go to London, take a soapbox, and stand in Speaker’s Corner to do this. Just reading softly to yourself is generally enough.)

By being too consistent, I mean having sentences that have the exact same structure over and over and over…

Consider this little paragraph (read it aloud for its full, horrific effect):

I went to the store today. I bought some onions. I bought some potatoes. I bought some cauliflower.  I brought them home. I made a pot of soup.  I ate my soup. I bored myself to death…

This is horrifically boring!  Just like the boring soup that no doubt resulted. Why?  Because every single sentence has the same structure:

<subject> <verb> <object>

No variation.  Not even many adjectives, and certainly no interesting change-ups to keep the reader interested.  I practically nodded off just typing it in!

Now consider this rewrite of the same basic story.

At the grocery today, I shopped for onions, tomatoes and celery. When I got them home, I made some delicious soup, adding a little sweet basil and even some thyme.  I had it for my supper, and it was so tasty that my whole day looked brighter and more fun…

See how changing the rhythm and flow of the sentences makes it much more interesting and fun to read?  See why you don’t want to make soup with artichokes and avocados?

Ahh…a nice pot of soup cures everything, right?  And no more foolish consistency allowed!