A few months ago, a pastor/author I’d never heard of contacted me and asked if I’d consider reviewing a book he’d written before it hit the market.
The book’s topic about owning your Christian faith sounded interesting enough, so I said sure, and maybe he could reciprocate some time. No problem, he responded, and a virtual handshake deal was done.
A few days later the book arrived, and I carved out some time to give it a thorough read. Just into page two, this paragraph screamed:
“I have long been compelled to write this book because I have discovered solidarity with my fellow second-generation Christians as we search for authentic faith. Children of the church live in a paradox between the biblical knowledge in our heads and the wanderlust in our hearts. Ours is a misunderstood struggle, unknown to those who have been dramatically rescued from enslavement to the world, their faith still fresh.” emphasis mine.
Let’s bypass the passive voice, and save that for another post.
This man is a previously published author, represented by a fairly prominent agent.
I read the paragraph several times fighting for comprehension that never came. I read on, hopeful it was an anomaly, only to find it was just the beginning of a literary disaster – in my opinion – which is exactly what he’d requested.
I struggled with a response. Who was I, in particular, to judge this man’s work? I wanted to rip the text apart, and offer an honest reply that it was among the most convoluted things I’d read. My editor would have had a field day with it.
So with respect, realizing he was previously published, and represented by an agent of some regard, this is what I said:
“Dear XXX: Thank you for your contact and book review inquiry. Because I cannot give your book a favorable review, I’d prefer to pass this time. I believe your editor, and your agency have done you a serious injustice, allowing text into a book that’s not yet ready for publication. If you’d like to know my concerns more specifically, please feel free to contact me via email.”
The author did contact me, and I pointed to countless areas in his book where prepositional phrases were rampant. It’s not that prepositions are bad things. They’re just not the best of things, and overuse points to seriously amateur work.
Every writer does it. It’s a terrible trap, and one I work hard to avoid (see there) – and it does take work. But to make our writing its best, we should avoid prepositional phrases like the plague.:)
It’s a subliminal thing. When a reader pours through copy permeated with prepositional phases, he/she may not know exactly what is bothering them, but they know something is bothering them. It may not be enough to compel them to toss your work aside, but it may well be distraction enough that they never get a clear picture of what you really mean.
Incorrect: The opinion of the manager.
Correct: The manager’s opinion.
Incorrect: The obvious effect of such a range of reference is to assure the audience of the author’s range of learning and intellect.
Correct: The wide-ranging references in this talk assure the audience the author is intelligent and well-read.
See the difference?
Sentences and paragraphs with too many prepositional phrases, simply lose their point. It’s in there somewhere. The reader just can’t find it, and he can’t pull it from your brain, or what you meant.
Take a look at your own work and see how many prepositional phrases you can eliminate. Then go back and judge for yourself if your work’s not clearer, more concise and more to the point of what you want your reader to know.
What tips do you have for using, or not using prepositional phrases, or better writing in general?