Thursday, October 22, 2009

Make Every Word Count – Part 2

The 3 R's of Wordiness:
Redundancy, Repetition, Rambling

(NOTE: If you haven't read my entry, Make Every Word Count – Part 1, please do so before continuing with this entry.)

In the last entry, we talked about the critical importance of adhering to one of the High Commandments of professional writing: "Make every word count."  Now that we've agreed on that, let's review some of the triggers you should look for to identify your own instances of Wordiness.

Trigger #1: A Conversational Style
      I'm not suggesting that a conversational writing style is necessarily a bad thing; indeed, it can make for a truly enjoyable read.  However, it might be a bad thing.  The potential danger is that you write precisely as you speak.  Then, dear master of crisp narrative, you have trouble.  Our everyday speech is lazy, garbled, often repetitive, occasionally incoherent, as our brains and mouths diverge or fail to sync-up.  We don’t apply the same sort of careful consideration to our speech that we apply (or at least should apply) to our writing.
      Thus, if your writing style is more conversational than literary, you must keep your Wordiness antenna raised at all times, because you're more likely to fall into this trap.

Trigger #2: Specific Phrases that Often Lead to Wordiness
  1. There were / There was
    1. Bad: There were stars shining….
    2. Good: Stars shined….
  2. Gave a/an
    1. Bad: John gave a short laugh….
    2. Good: John laughed….
  3. It was [blank] that
    1. Bad: It was the dog that ate it….
    2. Good: The dog ate it….
  4. There was a [blank] that
    1. Bad: There was a cat that scratched….
    2. Good: A cat scratched….
  5. Found himself / To find himself / Found that
    1. Bad: He found himself lying in a ditch….
    2. Good: He lay in a ditch….
    3. Bad: He awoke to find himself soaked in sweat….
    4. Good: He awoke soaked in sweat….
    5. Bad: He found that he'd been sleeping….
    6. Good: He'd been sleeping….
  6. In what they were / Of what they were
    1. Bad: The humor in what they were singing was….
    2. Good: The humor of their song was….
  7. I've got / He's got / They've got / Etc
    1. Bad: I've got a terrible headache….
    2. Good: I have a terrible headache….

Those 7 items are just some of the most common Wordiness Triggers I see when I edit.  Now, let's review a series of specific examples from pieces I've edited or reviewed.  As always, I shall keep confidential the authors' names and story titles to protect the not-so-innocent.  [Insert chuckle here]

BAD: There was screaming, and it pierced my ears like needles of ice.
      Note: "There was" is one of our classic triggers.
GOOD (Simple): Screams pierced my ears like needles of ice.

BAD: There were men attacking the village, and through their actions of burning cottages, the forest itself began to flame.
      Note: First, "There were" is one of our classic triggers.  Second, a phrase such as "through their actions of" is a major red flag.  Third, why say "the forest itself" when a simple "the forest" will suffice?  Fourth, don't provide an action that only "began to" do anything, unless you intend to interrupt that action before it's complete.
GOOD (Simple): Men attacked the village and burned cottages, and the surrounding forest soon flamed.
GOOD (Detailed): Men attacked the village and burned cottages, and the flames leapt from cottage to stable, from stable to field, from field to trees, until they cast the surrounding forest ablaze.

BAD: I’m hopeful that I’ll find something.
      Note: The red flag here is "hopeful that."
GOOD (Simple): I hope I'll find something.

BAD: The few remaining cars are nothing more than burned out shells sitting on bare steel rims where tires once were.
      Note: First, the phrase "are nothing more than" raises a red flag.  Second, the final four words are utterly redundant.  After all, everyone knows what purpose the steel rims serve.  This is no less intrusive and insulting than telling a reader "water is wet."
GOOD (Simple): The few remaining cars, mere burned-out shells, sat on bare steel rims.

BAD: As in all wars, each nation involved believes that the fight will bring improvement in some way; each combatant seeks to gain something, or at least keep all or some of what it already has.
      Note: The first nine words drag out the start of that sentence.  Second, I'm always suspicious of phrases like "in some way."  Third, consider the phrase "all or some of."  Yikes!  Why even mention it?  After all, what else is there?
GOOD (Simple): All nations involved in war believe the fight will bring some improvement; each combatant seeks to gain something, or at least to keep what is already theirs.
GOOD (Detailed): All nations involved in war believe the fight will bring some improvement; each combatant seeks to gain something, or at least to preserve their treasure, their families, their way of life.

BAD: His tone became less harsh as he spoke to the child.
      Note: Beware of anyone that "becomes" anything.  Slap the writer's wrench around that thing and tighten it up.
GOOD (Simple): His tone softened as he spoke to the child.
GOOD (Simple): He spoke to the child in soft tones.

BAD: With an open hand, he pushed Steve backward toward the sunlit stream from which the people of Centerville obtained their water.  Steve found himself setting among the summer brambles that grew there.
      Note: Hmmm… is "with an open hand" truly necessary?  Does it add anything?  What of the word "sunlit" in this case – how is it germane to the fact they get their water from that stream?  Details are great, provided they are also relevant.  As for the second sentence, beware characters who "find themselves" doing anything.  The Nike marketing folks had it right.  "Just do it!"  They didn’t say, "Just find yourself doing it!"  Finally, if the summer brambles didn't grow there, how would they have gotten there?  Please don't state the ridiculously obvious.
GOOD (Simple): He pushed Steve backward toward the stream from which the people of Centerville obtained their water.  Steve fell into a patch of summer brambles.

BAD: Their eyes and minds work furiously as they attempt to discern her purpose.
      Note: Why else would they "work furiously," except to "attempt" to do something?
GOOD (Simple): Their eyes and minds work furiously to discern her purpose.

BAD: From where he stood, he saw her fog-colored hair that moved with the breeze.
      Note: All right, now those first four words are just silly.  Would that be as opposed to some sort of out of body experience—from where he didn't stand?  Also, "that moved" is too much here.
NOT SO GOOD (Simple): He saw her fog-colored hair move with the breeze.
GOOD (Show; don't tell): Her fog-colored hair bounced with the breeze and assaulted her head in a gray swarm.

BAD: He should have a place to rest through eternity where she might visit him often while she lived, and she would bring flowers.
      Note: We're getting silly again.  First, would that be as opposed to having NO PLACE to rest, WHERE she might VISIT him often?  Second, would that be as opposed to visiting him while she's dead?
GOOD (Simple): He should rest through eternity where she might visit him often, and she would bring flowers.

BAD: A blanket of mist clung to the ground as Serra and Ryl found their way.  They threaded the rows of graves.
      Note: First, "found their way" raises a red flag.  Second, the two separated sentences provide a choppy feel.
GOOD (Simple): A blanket of mist clung to the ground as Mary and John threaded the rows of graves.

BAD: When his controlling progressed to violence, and he started hitting her, she hid it from everyone.
      Note: To first say, "his controlling progressed to violence," and then to say, "and he started hitting her," is to say the same thing twice, in two different ways.
GOOD (Simple): When his controlling progressed to violence, she hid it from everyone.
GOOD (Detailed): When he moved beyond simple controlling and started pushing her, slapping her, punching her, she hid it from everyone.

Well, I think that's enough for now—plenty for you to think about as you return to your manuscript and put on your self-editing cap.  Let me offer this reminder: Pith is not your enemy; it is your friend.  Pith will not preclude you from writing high prose; indeed, it will aid you in that endeavor.

Always adhere to this High Commandment of professional writing: "Make every word count."

'Til next time, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Make Every Word Count - Part 1

The 3 R's of Wordiness:
Redundancy, Repetition, Rambling

"Make every word count."  If you've studied this business, either through creative writing courses or through the hundreds of books available on the subject, you already know those four words—Make Every Word Count—represent one of the High Commandments of professional writing.

Several factors combine to make this commandment critical:
  1. In the publishing business, words are money.
    1. Every page added to a magazine or book increases its production cost.
    2. Additionally, many publications pay the writer on a per-word or per-page basis, and they'd rather not pay more than necessary.  I know: What a shocker, right?
    3. Never forget that this is a competitive business.  Publishers must make money, or there is no business.
    4. This doesn't mean you can't say what you need to say in a piece; it means you must do so in the tightest possible manner.
  2. People have, or at least claim to have, less time to read than in the past.  They tend to be impatient, as a result.
    1. If you, dear author, fail to get to the point, whatever the subject or venue, your reader is liable to bail out early.  To hold his interest, you must move the story/characters/setting/etc. forward at all times.  If you dawdle, he might return to those reruns of "I Love Lucy" and "M*A*S*H" that he's only seen 74 times each.
    2. Our time is precious, and so is your reader's.  Show some respect, even if you think he can live without that 75th viewing of the rerun.
  3. On top of everything else, Wordiness is just plain bad, lazy, dull writing.
    1. Redundancy is not only boring and unnecessary; it's rather insulting.  Readers often respond to redundancy by saying to themselves, "Geez, what's with this writer?  Does he think I'm an idiot?  I get it, already."
    2. Repetition tips off the reader that you're running out of things to say, so you keep saying the same things over and over.  Gee whiz, that makes for an exciting read.  Not.
    3. Rambling tips off the reader that… well, perhaps you shouldn't quit your day job.

The greatest challenge here, in this editor's opinion, is that most writers don't recognize Wordiness when they see it.  For most of us, our writing tracks with our speech, and follows that lead.  Big trouble.  When's the last time you heard someone utter a gem such as this:
"Like, have you guys like seen that like totally amazing movie about like androids and robots and stuff?  It's like, you know, so totally awesome that like, whatever, it's just cool and totally awesome."
Okay, so I stretched it to its extreme to illustrate my point.  Nonetheless, I'll bet you've heard something similar.

The point is that our speech leans heavily toward the lazy, improper, garbled, repetitive and disjointed.  Your writing must not.  Even if you speak as though you actually stayed awake in high school English and have an IQ over 43, you still allow nagging "errors" to creep into your speech.  We all do.

The problem you face as a writer is that your default voice is the one with which you speak.  To break those chains in your writing, you must learn to self-edit at the deepest possible level—every sentence, every word.  More than that, however, you must learn to turn off that voice in your head as you write and edit.  Finally, you must rely on your editor to bring objectivity and a fresh perspective, and to catch what your subconscious mind allows to slip blindly past.

The search for this is another cause of Wordiness.  Writers often seek to elevate their prose, to foment literary bliss, and I applaud the inclination.  However, too many writers confuse quantity for quality.  Elevated prose consists not of more words, but of better words, better formed.  Sometimes, the simplest way of saying something is the most elegant, and the most complex way of saying something is just plain torture.

Here's an actual example from a piece I edited.  I shall change the character names and keep confidential the author and title.
BAD: The inner glow of warmth and compassion Fred initially believed to live behind Barney's gray eyes, blazed fiercely with an entirely different meaning for Betty, or so it seemed to Fred, and in Betty’s attachment to Barney, she lost the capability to manifest emotion toward anyone else.
      Note: Oh, brother.  I bogged down several times in that sentence, but I found the final segment the most amusing—and by amusing, of course, I mean terrible.  That one 47-word sentence should probably be two sentences totaling 25-30 words.  I offer no alternatives because—good grief—the writer just has to go back to the drawing board here.  "…the capability to manifest emotion toward…?"  Seriously?

If I may borrow an oft-quoted ditty from another area in life:
"It's not the size of the boat that matters; it's the motion of the ocean."

Pith is not your enemy.  Pith is your friend; it will not preclude you from writing high prose.  Indeed, it will aid you in that endeavor.

Ultimately, I believe the best way to learn how to recognize and destroy Wordiness is through example—simple, repetitive trial and error.  Therefore, I shall focus in the next blog entry on providing a series of examples and preferred alternatives.  Tune in again soon.

'Til next time, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The "ING" Thing - Part 3

Stop slinging INGs and bring the zing!

(NOTE: If you haven't read my entries, The "ING" Thing – Part 1 and The "ING" Thing – Part 2, please do so before continuing with this entry.)

In this continuing discussion of The "ING" Thing, I get right to a series of examples of poor ING use, and I offer some preferred alternatives.  The suggestions I offer are, in each case, merely one (or two) of many possible alternatives.  Perhaps you will conjure your own improved version; after all, we each have our own distinctive styles.  The key is to correct the poor writing and, in doing so, to keep it strong and direct.

BAD: John was sitting in his chair smiling at Jane.
      Note: First, kill the passive verb construction and keep it active.  Second, why is the chair smiling at Jane?  I know, I know—that's not what the author meant to say.  (See my 3-part example in The "ING" Thing – Part 2 if you're unclear on why this is a problem.)  Third, and let's just be honest about this—bluch!
GOOD (Simple): John sat in his chair and smiled at Jane.
GOOD (Detailed): John stiffened his back and squared his shoulders, as he tapped his fingers in a steady thump, thump, thump on the arm of his chair, and smiled at Jane.

BAD: John and Jane were walking home from school, taking a new route, talking as they went along, hoping to enjoy some private time together.
      Note: First, why, oh why, has the author forced the reader to pause three times in one sentence?  Second, kill the passive verb construction and keep it active.  Third, must those actions be ongoing in the Past Tense narrative?  Fourth, the weak verb choices do little to evoke a strong image in the reader's mind.  Fifth, say it with me again—bluch!
GOOD (Simple): John and Jane chatted as they strolled home from school.  They'd chosen a new route in the hopes they would enjoy some private time together.
GOOD (Detailed): John and Jane strolled home along a new route, which they'd hoped would offer fewer distractions, more privacy.  They chatted about their day at school, their favorite subjects and teachers, their friends—anything to draw out their time together.  John fidgeted with his fingers as he considered holding Jane's hand.  Perhaps it was too soon for that.

BAD: Jane was sitting in the bedroom, trembling and crying, dreading John arriving home from work.
      Note: Yikes!  The author gives us 5 INGs in a single, 15-word sentence chocked full of the usual problems.  Even worse, it hints at serious tension, conflict and emotion, but fails to deliver the knockout punch.  I can almost hear its screams as it begs the author to stop all the weak telling and to paint a picture instead, imagery that draws the reader right in as if she's a part of the scene.
GOOD (Detailed): Jane slumped into the armchair in the corner of her bedroom, as if trying to hide within it.  A single, stubborn tear slipped down her cheek as she stared through the window at the empty driveway.  It wouldn't empty for long.  She clasped her cold hands together to control their shaking, curled her fingers into a yin-yang s-shape, and pulled until sweat pooled in her palms.  John would arrive home from work at any moment, and then….  A shiver bolted down her spine as she sank deeper into the chair.  She could not escape.  She could only wait.

BAD: She quickly grabbed her purse from the table, feeling in the pockets for her keys, and ran for the door.
      Note: First, if you've been at this writing game for a while, you already know that weak adverbs are nasty.  Second, since the author felt it necessary to tell us the character acted "quickly," he clearly wanted to convey a sense of urgency.  However, the weak verb/adverb choices (quickly grabbed, feeling, ran) and the slow pace of the sentence (two commas) combine to dampen any potential urgency.  Hint: If you want rapid, tense action, you must provide rapid sentences with ramped-up action.  To say a character "quickly" did something, and then to immediately force the reader to pause, is to defeat your own intention.  Again, keep it strong and direct.
GOOD: She snatched her purse from the table and rifled through the pockets as she bolted for the door.
BETTER: She snatched her purse from the table and rifled through the pockets as she bolted for the door and kicked it open and leapt down the steps.
      Note: You wouldn’t normally create such a sentence without separating the independent clauses with commas.  However, when you have a particularly tense scene in which you want to convey breakneck urgency, give the reader a breakneck pace.  Just pick your spots carefully and don't overdo it, lest you render impotent this most effective tool.

BAD: Wanda, oriental features gleaming proudly, standing among the other honorees, smiled.
      Note: Yikes!  Double yikes!  Triple yikes!  Seriously, need I say anything more?  I'll bet you can create a scene that conveys the author's intentions—something the author failed to do.  Go ahead; give it a shot.

'Til next time, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The "ING" Thing - Part 2

Stop slinging INGs and bring the zing!

(NOTE: If you haven't read my entry, The "ING" Thing – Part 1, I recommend you do so before continuing with this entry.)

In this continuing discussion of The "ING" Thing, I provide further explanation and some examples of why the use of INGs, particularly in a Past Tense narrative, is so bad (usually).

First, let's review the example I used in my previous blog entry.
BAD: John hit the brakes, turning right into the alley.
GOOD: John hit the brakes and turned right into the alley.

The first sentence is bad for two reasons:
1)       The sentence implies that the two actions—"hit the brakes" and "turning right"—occurred simultaneously.  In fact, the former would have preceded the latter.
2)       You force the reader to pause unnecessarily by inserting a comma where none would be required, were you to structure the sentence properly.

Excessive Commas
Comma use, whether inadequate or excessive, is the number one issue for many writers.  Sentence structure in general is one of the toughest aspects of writing to master.  Therefore, I shall address that issue in future blog entries.  However, excessive commas are particularly troubling because:
1)       We "process" the written word primarily at the sentence level, which means we're happiest when we complete one sentence and move to the next.  I'm not suggesting words are not important (of course they are), merely secondary to the overall sentence in which they appear.  Don’t believe me?  How easily can you read the following passage?
a.       I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg—the phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind.  Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod apeapr, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the first and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae.  The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm.  This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?
2)       This does not mean you should provide a series of choppy, unsatisfying sentences laden with spelling errors.
3)       It does mean you shouldn’t slow the pace and force the reader to pause unless it's necessary (or particularly effective).  Readers revolt at a subconscious level (it's a psychological thing) against excessive breaks within a sentence, and often prefer two short sentences to one long sentence with multiple breaks.  Mix it up to avoid the Lullaby Effect, of course, but do so with this point in mind.

To all of this, you might say, "Great, then I'll just delete the comma."
STILL BAD: John hit the brakes turning right into the alley.

This brings up another problem: verb application (Subject-Predicate logic).  In other words, to which noun does the verb apply?  In the sentence above, is "John" turning or are the "brakes" turning?  If you're inclined to say, "Well, duh," I offer this illustration to explain reader confusion over improper, inconsistent sentence structure:
1)       He stood by the tree whistling a happy tune.
2)       He stood by the tree growing at a strange angle from the hillside.
3)       He stood by the tree swaying in the brisk wind.

In #1, that's one talented tree.  [Insert chuckle here.]  I know, it's supposed to be "he" that's whistling, right?  Really?  Then is "he" the one that's growing at a strange angle in #2?  No?  How are the two sentences different, structurally speaking?  In #3, is "he" swaying in the brisk wind, or is the "tree?"

Technically, #1 is incorrect (without a comma after "tree"), #2 is correct, and #3 is one or the other—we have no way to know.  If you require readers to translate your intentions, even if they seem perfectly obvious, you tread into dangerous territory.  Please, keep it simple, keep it direct, and keep it clear.

Wait, who's swaying?
Readers often lose track of who does what to whom.  In one study I read years ago (sorry, I don’t remember the source), they asked people to read four paragraphs, each containing two characters that engaged in particular acts, and later identify which character performed which act.

Version #1 contained primarily “-ing” verbs, which typically pointed from a subject and to an object only indirectly.  Version #2 contained primarily “-ed” verbs, which pointed directly from the subject to the object.

In Version #1, readers who were later tested chose correctly, when identifying which character performed which act, in only 40% of the instances (a failing grade in anybody's book).  In Version #2, readers were correct 75% of the time (an average score).

Practice and Practical Examples
In my upcoming entry, The "ING" Thing – Part 3, I'll provide a series of examples, taken from pieces I've edited, of poor ING use, and their preferred alternatives.  For now, I want to leave you with this cautionary plea:
If you must open a sentence with an Infinite-Verb Phrase, or use a Present Participle in a Past Tense narrative, because you can think of no better way to "mix up" the rhythm of your prose, please, do not misplace or confuse your modifiers.

To illustrate, I offer the following from what many consider the "bible" of writing.

The Elements of Style – William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Macmillan)
I've excerpted the following, in applicable segments, from pages 13-14.
            A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
                        Walking slowly down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children.
            The word "walking" refers to the subject of the sentence, not to the woman.  If the writer wishes to make it refer to the woman, he must recast the sentence.
                        He saw a woman, accompanied by two children, walking slowly down the road.
            Sentences violating [this rule] are often ludicrous:
1)       Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.
2)       Wondering irresolutely what to do next, the clock struck twelve.
3)       As a mother of five, with another on the way, my ironing board is always up.

I truly, truly, truly hope that you easily recognize the problems with those three sentences, but just in case:
1)       "I" would be the one "in a dilapidated condition," rather than "the house."
2)       "The clock" is not capable of "wondering irresolutely."
3)       The "ironing board" not only has five children already; it's pregnant again.

'Til next time, remember: Writing well is not easy.  It takes work.  You mustn't be lazy.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The "ING" Thing - Part 1

Stop slinging INGs and bring the zing!

What's an ING?  Well, that's my term for verbs (or verbal nouns) that end with "ing."  I use ING because those words can go by any of several names: Infinite-Verb, Gerund, Gerund-Participle, Present Participle, Active Participle, Imperfect Participle, Progressive Participle, Dangling Participle.

Ah, so may participles, so little time.  Unless you're in pursuit of a Master's Degree in English, it gets a bit confusing.  Thus, for the purpose of casual discussion here, I roll them all up under the simple, unifying term "ING."

Whatever their proper term, these various INGs have one thing in common, which I'll illustrate through these definitions, brought to you by The Oxford American Dictionary (Avon Books).

gerund [jer-und] n  an English verbal noun ending in -ing; a Latin verbal noun expressing generalized or uncompleted action.

present participle [pahr-ti-sip-el] n  a word formed from a verb, one that expresses continuing action, as burning, frightening, wasting.

The common thread?  The action is ongoing, not finished, happening right now—this very instant.  They often work well in a Present Tense narrative.

However, if you write a Past Tense narrative….  Need I say it?  Okay.  In a Past Tense narrative, you should almost always—the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of the time—use a verb that suits your Tense.

past participle [pahr-ti-sip-el] n  a word formed from a verb, one that expresses completed action, as burned, frightened, wasted.

Of course, as is so often the case with the rules of writing, this is not a 100%-er.  You may have occasion to express an ongoing action, if the scene flow calls for it, even in a Past Tense narrative.  However, this happens far less often than the work of most writers would seem to indicate.

In other words, writers use INGs when they should not, and fling them about like monkeys in a poop patch.

I think part of the reason this problem is so prevalent—indeed, that many writers don’t even consider it a problem—is that English teachers in elementary and high school often instruct students to use them.  Why would they do so?  To help the students cut their word counts.  After all, every time you change, "John hit the brakes and turned right into the alley," to, "John hit the brakes, turning right into the alley," you eliminate one word.

Never mind all the reasons this is bad (I'll go into more detail in an upcoming blog entry in this series, The "ING" Thing).  The important thing is that you cut a word.  Right?  This is terrible advice, an area where many teachers are out of phase with industry professionals.

I'll provide additional entries in this series—at least Parts 2 and 3—in which I'll include hard examples of what not to do, and their preferred alternatives.  For now, I want to leave you with relevant words from a renowned creative-writing instructor.

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers – John Gardner (Vintage Books)
I've excerpted the following, in applicable segments, from pages 100-101.
            Sentences beginning with infinite-verb phrases are so common in bad writing that one is wise to treat them as guilty until proven innocent—sentences, that is, that begin with such phrases as "Looking up slowly from her sewing, Martha said…" or "Carrying the duck in his left hand, Henry…"
            In really bad writing, such introductory phrases regularly lead to shifts in temporal focus or to plain illogic.  The bad writer tells us, for instance: "Firing the hired man and burning down his shack, Eloise drove into town."  (The sentence implies that the action of firing the hired man and burning down his shack and the action of driving into town are simultaneous.)
            Or the bad writer tells us, "Quickly turning from the bulkhead, Captain Figg spoke slowly and carefully."  (Illogical; that is, impossible.)
            But even if no illogic or confusion or temporal focus is involved, the too frequent or inappropriate use of infinite-verb phrases makes bad writing.  Generally, it comes about because the writer cannot think of a way to vary the length of his sentences.  The writer looks at the terrible thing he's written: "She slipped off the garter.  She turned to John.  She smiled at his embarrassment," and in a desperate attempt to get rid of the dully thudding subjects and verbs he revises to "She slipped off the garter.  Turning to John, she smiled at his embarrassment."
            The goal, sentence variety, may be admirable, but there are better ways.  One can get rid of the thudding subjects and verbs by using compound predicates: "She slipped off the garter and turned to John"; by introducing qualifiers and appositional phrases: "She slipped—or, rather, yanked—off the garter, a frayed, mournful pink one long past its prime, gray elastic peeking out past the ruffles, indifferently obscene" (etc.); or by finding some appropriate subordinate clause, perhaps: "When she had slipped off the garter, she turned to John"—a solution that gets rid of the thudding by lowering (hastening) the stress of the first "she."
            …Used indiscriminately, the introductory infinite-verb phrase chops the action into fits and starts and loses what effectiveness it might have had, properly set.

'Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy.  It takes work.  You mustn't be lazy.