The Bourne Supremacy

Joanna Bourne, author of The Spymaster’s Lady, does not have much of a web presence. But she does have a blog, and she’s posted a most useful writing class, the beginning of a series.


Word choice: Superfluous ‘that’s’.

At the polishing stage of the redraft, do a search on ‘that’. Every time a sentence reads fine without ‘that’, pull it out.

Not – It is clear that Joanie dunks donuts.
But — It is clear Joanie dunks donuts.
Or better … Clearly, Joanie dunks donuts, which frees the predicate from the verb ‘to be’, which is nearly always an improvement.

If you care about the employment and deployment of language in your writing, head over and read. She gives great examples–I can’t learn without examples–and you are definitely learning from a master here. And even if you already know how to structure a sentence for maximum clarity, efficiency, and impact, you should still head over and read. It never hurts to review what you know.

(I would love to be able to give similar lessons, but I don’t know a predicate from a syndicate and judging by my desperate word-stripping during the page proof phase of Delicious, I still use far, far too many words.)

19 thoughts on “The Bourne Supremacy

  1. 1) I’ve been a member/lurker of the Compuserve Books & Writers Forum for a few years now, one of Jo’s haunts. She’s a masterful writer AND a masterful teacher. She has such a wonderfully clear way of explaining things and giving examples. Her book The Spymaster’s Lady is an excellent display of plotting, language use, characterization, voice, all that good stuff.

    2) I received my Private Arrangements t-shirt. SQUEEEEE! THANK YOU!!!

  2. Great link!

    If you ever do give a class, maybe it could be “How to use adverbs beautifully.” And I’ll be the first one to sign up. Adverbs are most writers’ (ok, my) Achilles heel. Lately, I’ve been recommending Private Arrangements to people as an example of how to use them for style, tone and pacing.

  3. Yes, love the link. Some wonderful examples (I like it so much better when there are examples).

  4. Personally I want Sherry’s class on metaphors.

    One of my writing teachers cured me of overusing adverbs by rooting them out ruthlessly. That’s the trick of it, I think — I edit them out by asking myself if they don’t fall into the category of telling rather than showing. This is especially true when they are used with dialogue tags. For example:

    “Oh you poor child, ” she said pityingly.

    The “pityingly,” though tempting, is completely redundant here because the dialogue already reveals that the character feels pity.

    Those are my 3 cents anyway, which I’m sure you don’t need, Bettie, since I’m reading Ember right now and it’s fab. But just because I can’t resist a craft discussion.

    I’m shutting up now, though. I shouldn’t take up this much bandwidth on Sherry’s blog.

  5. Precie,

    I heard that she belonged to that forum, where Diana Gabaldon also hangs out.

    You are welcome on the t-shirt. Enjoy.


    LOL. People keep saying things to me that make me “Really?” these days. I have no idea that I possess any kind of mastery over the adverb. I think I just strip most of them. And I don’t remember you having any problems with them at all, none whatsoever.


    Examples are the most perfect form of show, don’t tell, aren’t they? 🙂


    No, no, keep going. The bandwidth is free. Mi blog es su blog.

    I think with Delish I went a little overboard with the metaphors during the writing of it. My editor–and you–both wanted a good number of them stripped. I did take out a number in the end, so as not to interrupt the flow of narrative. I should have prolly taken out more from a language-use perspective, but when I read Delish I get caught sometimes in the high emotions and I want those slightly over-the-top metaphors to stay.

  6. Thanks, but I’m mostly done with my little adverb class. The basic premise is that adverbs often describe something that has already been adequately shown, and if that’s the case, then in my opinion they need to go. Oh, and where adverbs are concerned, my motto is “When in doubt, toss it out.” But otherwise, I allow myself to leave a few.

    I think your metaphors are gorgeous. Goregeous, I tell you. Sublime. And the profusion of them makes me wish my brain worked the same way. I think on the last critique you did for me you said, in one scene, “Give me a metaphor here.” I must have sat at the computer for twenty minutes trying to think of one. But I did come up with something eventually.

    I don’t remember asking you to strip that many metaphors from Delicious (At least, not like I got on your case about adverbs in the early drafts of Heart of Blade). There was a pair about a grasshopper / snowman that were both beautiful, but I thought should be reduced to one, and another one during a love scene that I thought could go. Were there others? If so I don’t remember them. My overarching memory of that critique was being hungry for hazelnut butter and then sobbing over my PDA and notebook because the story got to me so much.

  7. A conversation about adverbs and romance novels? I must step in and out of it very quickly.

    It’s interesting it is to hear writers discuss the nuts and bolts of their craft. And wonderfully insightful. I met an author a few weeks ago who told me she agonizes over every comma, wondering if it might be ‘superfluous.’ She found commas prescriptive and thought they ruined the flow of her writing. (I, on the other hand, can’t get enough of them.) Anyway, point being, I’m fascinated by the editing process!

    I’ve always mourned my perfunctory writing style, with it’s absence of frill and flourish – I couldn’t think up a metaphor on grasshoppers or snowmen (other than the very trite) if I sat and pondered for hours. I just can’t do it. I feel this lack very keenly.

  8. Lol, Meriam, welcome to a mini word-dork convention.

    I, too, belong in the group that has never met a comma I didn’t like. My husband is aghast that I write “Hi comma Name” to start my emails. Half of what my editor and my copyeditor do is getting rid of my commas. But I’ve never agonized over them. I think of them as breathers. If I breathe, I put one in. 🙂

    I think the original metaphor that Janine pointed out was something like “Lies. All lies. And she’d believed it, the way a snowman believed the world would forever be upholstered in fine crystals of ice. A grasshopper trusting in the eternity of summer.”

    A few grafs above I’d used snowman in another way. A few chapters later I’d use grasshopper. I felt, in the beginning, that it had a good echo (I’m fond of things echoing one another), but Janine pointed out that the repetition they might lessen the impact of each instance of usage. And I also didn’t want readers to think that I was repeating myself unintentionally. So I took everything out and now what’s left is “Lies. All lies. And she’d believed them.”

    Sometimes less is more.

    (Though in my heart I am a more is more girl).

    And it’s weird that these days I’m much more conscious of how I write (language wise) because until PA was bought, I just wrote as I wanted my words to read. After that people began to compliment me on my writing, I started going “Really?” and now feel an obligation to write nice. 🙂

    And Janine, I don’t remember anything you said to me about adverbs. Must have totally digested that info and absorbed it then. 🙂

  9. My husband is aghast that I write “Hi comma Name” to start my emails.

    Ha! My favourite comma related anecdote was in Eats, Shoots and Leaves when –

    – Thurber was once asked by a colleague: “Why did you have a comma in the sentence ‘after dinner, the men went into the sitting room?'” And his answer was probably one of the loveliest things ever said about punctuation. “This particular comma,” Thurber explained, “was Ross’s way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up.” –

    Cool, no?

    A grasshopper trusting in the eternity of summer.

    How lovely.

  10. I don’t know if that metaphor was an allusion but I suspect it is. There is an old Aesop’s fable about a grasshopper and an ant in which the ant gathers food all summer while the grasshopper just has fun. Then the ant, which had warned the grasshopper that winter would come, is prepared while the grasshopper, is not. I love the way Sherry uses myths and fables in her metaphors.

    And Janine, I don’t remember anything you said to me about adverbs. Must have totally digested that info and absorbed it then. 🙂

    It was ages ago and yes, you digested and absorbed beautifully. That is one of the most rewarding things about critiquing your writing, along with being the recepient of wonderfully insightful critiques in exchange.

    I’m a more-is-more girl too for the most part. These days I don’t ask you to strip much anymore. Delicious was damn near perfect before I critiqued it, and I don’t want to mess with perfection.

  11. And I don’t remember you having any problems with them at all, none whatsoever.

    I don’t have problems with adverbs; I’m just deathly afraid of the little buggers. Like any true phobic, I’m not only afraid of them, I’m certain they are both evil, and out to get me. When I do happen to let an adverb slip onto the page, I become convinced it is secretly plotting with the commas, the “ands” and the “buts” to stage some sort of grammatical mutiny and hijack my flow.

    But they behave so well for you, I’m starting to think I’ve been a little paranoid. What’s your secret, how do you keep them in line? Right now, I’m imagining it involves a whip, a chair, a revolver, and maybe a pith helmet…

    Also, I’d sign up for your class on metaphors in a second.

  12. I love my adverbs and punctuation too much. Got a thing goin’ on with semi-colons that ain’t healthy.

  13. Meriam,

    That is such a fun anecdote. I started Eats, Shoots, and Leaves but didn’t finish it. Will do that now.

    And I totally didn’t think about why you said you must step into a conversation about romance and adverbs until just now. LOL.


    I think in the interview I did with Blue Moon, the interviewer asked me whether I had any particular interest in Greek mythology. I don’t particularly, but I tend to lean on it when I come up with metaphors since it is something my characters would know for sure and it’s something that is taught in high school (at least it was when I was in high school), so a common cultural reference for 19th century characters and 21th c readers. I will also use a bit of fables and maybe a bit of Dickens here and there that has also become part of culture. (And also become popular culture Dickens is the only Dickens I know!)


    Yes, I approach my laptop everyday in a dominatrix get-up, to the delight of my quivering adverbs. The little buggers just love cowering before me and exploding in fits of pain and ecstasy.

    I think, having never had formal training either in literature or writing, I just don’t fear a lot of things that I prolly should fear. 🙂


    I have a dreadful disease where the m-dash is involved. It is just bad and getting worse. I have to be ever so careful so that I don’t have two sentences involving m-dashes every paragraph!

  14. Bev,

    I know. Holy Batman! (Which expression I borrowed in my next post.)


    It would be time well-spent.

    La belle Americaine,

    You are welcome.

  15. I heard that she belonged to that forum, where Diana Gabaldon also hangs out.

    You’d be welcome, too. 🙂 And anyone else who wants to drop in. Not sure how to shrink the link to fit here, but it’s listed in the sidebar of my blog.

Comments are closed.