CRIME NOVELIST SHOOTS DAD, REPORTER DESTROYS STORY

It’s entirely–and unfortunately–possible for professional writers to churn out crud.  Let’s take an example and dissect it.  Here’s the first part of a recent news story from my home town.  If you can’t stand the writing (you aren’t alone), go ahead and skip past the italics.

After allegedly shooting her father Friday evening, Lisa Reardon spoke to her sister, who encouraged the 47-year-old crime novelist to turn herself in, police said.

Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Hilobuk said Reardon’s sister told investigators, “Lisa was upset and said that she couldn’t believe that she missed and wouldn’t ever get a chance to do it again.”

Those details – as well as information on Reardon’s mental state over the past week – were revealed during her arraignment today on charges of assault with intent to commit murder and possession of a firearm during the incident.

A magistrate denied bail for Reardon, who is accused of shooting her father in the leg and buttocks Friday at his Dexter Township home.

Reardon, who has written novels including “The Mercy Killers,” based in Ypsilanti, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if she’s convicted.

(The full story can be found here: http://www.annarbor.com/news/crime-novelist-ordered-held-without-bail-in-dexter-township-shooting/ )

This is a stunning piece of bad writing.  Let’s look at what happened, sentence by sentence.

After allegedly shooting her father Friday evening, Lisa Reardon spoke to her sister, who encouraged the 47-year-old crime novelist to turn herself in, police said.

The lead is confusing in the extreme.  It starts from the end (“After . . .”) and works to the beginning.  All writing should avoid this.  Better to say Crime novelist Lisa Reardon, 47, allegedly shot her father Friday evening, then spoke to her sister, who encouraged Reardon to turn herself in, police said. Notice how much cleaner that reads!  It also has a much better opening hook.

Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Hilobuk said Reardon’s sister told investigators, “Lisa was upset and said that she couldn’t believe that she missed and wouldn’t ever get a chance to do it again.”

Here we have a “he said that she said” situation, which is tough to understand.  Better choice:  According to Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Hilobuk, Reardon’s sister told investigators, “Lisa was upset and said that she couldn’t believe that she missed and wouldn’t ever get a chance to do it again.” Not hugely better, but journalism is stuck having to attribute everything and give everyone a title.

Those details – as well as information on Reardon’s mental state over the past week – were revealed during her arraignment today on charges of assault with intent to commit murder and possession of a firearm during the incident.

Uh oh!  Passive voice reads badly, and some of the information is repeated from earlier in the story.  And this sentence is a wowzer of tangles.  Break it up, dude!  Let’s try Investigators revealed information about Reardon’s mental state during her arraignment today.  Reardon was charged with assault with intent to commit murder and possession of a firearm. Ahh!  Much easier to digest.

A magistrate denied bail for Reardon, who is accused of shooting her father in the leg and buttocks Friday at his Dexter Township home.

Let’s be honest here–the fact that Reardon shot her father in the ass should be in the second paragraph, not the fourth.  At minimum it should lead this paragraph.  The reporter also gives another tangled, nasty sentence.  Let’s clean this up: Reardon is accused of shooting her father in the leg and buttocks Friday at his Dexter Township home.  The magistrate denied bail. Much better!

Reardon, who has written novels including “The Mercy Killers,” based in Ypsilanti, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if she’s convicted.

This sentence suffers from too many phrases and clauses.  We have the main subject (“Reardon”), an adjective clause (“who has written…”) which contains both a participial phrase (“including…”) and an appositive phrase (“based in…”) and then we have the verb (“faces”).  And book titles are italicized, not set off by quotation marks.  Oof!  Let’s bring things together a little better: Reardon’s novels include The Mercy Killers, and are often based in Ypsilanti.  She faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

So the fully rewritten version would run like this:

Crime novelist Lisa Reardon, 47, allegedly shot her father Friday evening, then spoke to her sister, who encouraged Reardon to turn herself in, police said.

According to Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Hilobuk, Reardon’s sister told investigators, “Lisa was upset and said that she couldn’t believe that she missed and wouldn’t ever get a chance to do it again.”

Investigators revealed information about Reardon’s mental state during her arraignment today.  Reardon was charged with assault with intent to commit murder and possession of a firearm.

Reardon is accused of shooting her father in the leg and buttocks Friday at his Dexter Township home.  The magistrate denied bail.

Reardon’s novels include The Mercy Killers, and are often based in Ypsilanti.  She faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

The sad part is that Lee Higgins, the reporter, is supposed to be a pro.  He clearly needs more practice.  And someone needs to crack his editor across the knuckles with a ruler.

–Steven Harper Piziks

http://spiziks.livejournal.com

OFFSPRING, the fourth and final Silent Empire book, is now available on Amazon’s Kindle for $1.79. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B002LASFBS

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CRIME NOVELIST SHOOTS DAD, REPORTER DESTROYS STORY — 1 Comment

  1. Billy Dead is a very good novel. Creepy, but good. Shooting her dad makes me wonder if any of the book is autobiographical now.