What kind of writing turns readers off? The Authors collection


“Hideously humming in our ears, a black cloud of flies faithfully followed every movement we made.”—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It’s almost impossible to avoid exposure to what I call, “backward writing.”

It occurs when a participle phrase that modifies a noun, especially the subject, begins a sentence. It can be found in the classics and in books written yesterday.


Consider these examples:

  • “Looking at his watch, Hixon reported with precision, it’s five-fifty, ‘You hungry?’”—FCEtier (But I fixed it!)
  • “Arriving home, he tossed his coat on the lounge and ripped off his tie.”—unnamed author
  • “Stabilizing her as much as they could, the EMTs then took her to the hospital.”—narrator on television program
  • “Laying down my treasure before the iron gate, I quickly rang the bell hoping I hadn’t come too late.”—Steve Winwood
  • “The interrogation room, harshly lit by two powerful, unshaded lights, was uncomfortable and airless.”—Alistair MacLean
  • “Ken, standing behind them, didn’t even know what they were talking about.”—Robb White
  • “Huddled close to one another, they fancied themselves utterly alone.”—Joseph Conrad

Sentence structure is a matter of style.

Every writer has his/her own.

No one is required to like it.

Frequency of use and the authors’ reputations don’t guarantee a pleasurable read.

If you do like a particular author’s style, it stands to reason, you’ll read more of their work.

Does annoying sentence construction take you out of the story?

Recent studies have shown that attention spans of readers are declining. If authors must write well enough to keep a reader’s attention against such a trend, can we risk annoying sentence construction? [This reader also finds excessive use of dialect and books written in first person present tense too difficult to read to bother—but those are topics for future blogs.]

Many of the examples of backward writing that I find most annoying, such as the one shown at the top, include adverbs and “ing” verbs, both of which only serve to add to my displeasure. Some folks think this style of writing and sentence construction is fine. Apparently, it’s preferred in English class themes. My editor agrees with me in that it has no place in novels where active writing works better.

In a recent re-read of my first book, I was horrified to discover that I was as guilty of this construct as Sir Arthur. At least I’m in good company. The current version of The Tourist Killer, the Second Edition, is devoid of this style (unless I missed some.) Will it translate into more sales? Time will tell.

Please click the book cover image to read more about FCEtier and his novels.

TouristKillerNewCover (1)


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