“Help me please!” he screamed madly as the writing gods cast thunderbolts down from the mountaintops: Wednesday, June 10th

Writers and Readers, I need your help.

I’m reading The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan right now. I’m a huge fan of the “Riyria” stories and of Sullivan himself. But there’s something about his writing style that throws me off. Let me give a few examples…

(1)
“This is Albert Winslow, an acquaintance of ours,” Hadrian explained as Albert pulled a chair over to their table.

(2)
I do an honest business here,” Hall protested as they pushed him up against the wall with the rest.

(3)
“Does this have a point?” she asked with irritation as she took a seat on her bed.

In all three of these examples, the author is jamming two sentences worth of information into one. All of them follow this formula: piece of dialogue + identifying the speaker + “as” + describing an action. Sullivan uses the word “as” to connect a piece of dialogue with a piece of action. He uses this technique all over the place, and now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t stop noticing it.

If I was an editor, I would feel inclined to change the formula so that the bit of action comes first, and the dialogue comes second. Also I would split them into two separate sentences, instead of combining them like Sullivan does.

Here is how I would change each sentence…

(1)

Sullivan’s Version:

“This is Albert Winslow, an acquaintance of ours,” Hadrian explained as Albert pulled a chair over to their table.

My Version:

Albert pulled a chair over to their table. “This is Albert Winslow, an acquaintance of ours,” Hadrian explained.

I took out the “as” and turned it into two sentences. I put the action first and the dialogue second. I guess the conundrum is that, in reality, the action and the dialogue take place at the exact same time. As a writer you have to pick which one comes first. Maybe that’s what Sullivan’s trying to get at by using “as”.

(2)

Sullivan’s Version:

“I do an honest business here,” Hall protested as they pushed him up against the wall with the rest.

My Version:

The guards pushed him up against the wall with the rest. “I do an honest business here,” Hall protested.

Again, I split it into two sentences and moved the action in front of the dialogue. Also I identified “the guards” instead of using a pronoun. I like that Sullivan’s version is fast and action-packed, but I can’t help but feel like he’s taking advantage of me with run-on sentences.

(3)

Sullivan’s Version:

“Does this have a point?” she asked with irritation as she took a seat on her bed.

My Version:

She took a seat on her bed and asked, “Does this have a point?”

This one annoys me the most. Sullivan not only uses his “as” trick here, but he also uses an adverbial phrase (with irritation) to modify the feeling of the dialogue. I like what Stephen King and other authors say about “he said”, and “she said”, and how writers should keep it simple for readers, instead of using a bunch of adverbs like “he said angrily” or “she said excitedly“. Anyway, adverbs aside, I still feel like Sullivan is cramming too much information into one sentence here. Again I would choose to put the action first and the dialogue second. Note that I didn’t split it into two sentences this time. I kept it as one, but I used the conjunction “and” which I like better than “as”.

***

My goal here is to learn professional tactics from a professional author. I don’t give a shit about grammar rules or any kind of obtuse writing rules. I just want to know what works best. What do readers like? -That’s the only rule that matters. Obviously Sullivan’s thousands of fans aren’t deterred by his writing, so why does it bother me so much?

Do you like Sullivan’s style? And do you think my edits clean up the language, or do they just take something clean and make it clumsy?

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4 thoughts on ““Help me please!” he screamed madly as the writing gods cast thunderbolts down from the mountaintops: Wednesday, June 10th

  1. I like your version better. Something about putting the action first paints the scene and makes the entire passage feel less passive.

    Like

  2. I like your changes in the first one, but the second one I kind of like the “as”. It gives me more of a visual, I can actually see him protesting, maybe waving his arms or something, while he is talking and being pushed around. The agree the third one is strange. I like your changes but I would take out the “she asked” part since you have already mentioned that “she” sat down, so j know that “she” is doing the asking.
    Anyway, just my thoughts as I brush up on my reading between flights. I learn so much from your blog! Keep it up!

    Like

    • Thanks Deb. I like these kind of issues, since there’s no real right answer. It just depends on the author and the flow and each individual case is difference.

      I agree with you that example #2 is the best example of Sullivan’s “as” technique. The other ones feel too much like run on sentences. But, when done, right, the as trick can really put you in the action.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

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