Thursday, September 3, 2009

On the road of writing, avoid the GIANT POTHOLES.

Alright kiddies, gather 'round -- it's metaphor time! (But only for a minute, I swear.) If you think about writing a novel as a road, (because who doesn't love a good road metaphor), there's something that will really ruin your trip: potholes. (We're driving down this road, if you haven't guessed.) 

So potholes are a big huge pain in the toushie, and sometimes they'll just jostle you, but other times they'll take out the underside of your car and suddenly you're on the side of the road thinking "gosh, I wouldn't have driven over it if I thought it was THAT big" and a sweaty man named Bubba's offering to drive you home (or into a comfy ditch, if you're a pessimist. Either way, it can't end well.).

Back to writing. Little potholes, or errors, in our utterly perfect creations are inevitable. But you want to avoid the medium- to elephant-sized potholes because they can be distracting for the reader (at least) or even derail the entire novel.

Wouldn't you just LOVE a nice little list of potholes to avoid? Here are some I've thought of recently, and yes, some are ones I've fallen into myself. In no particular order...

- Writing unnecessary scenes. Maybe your chapter's falling a little short of your goal, or you just really have been wanting to send your characters to the zoo to ooh and ahh over the adorable otters. (Seriously, I want to steal an otter.) One word: DON'T. Unless you can figure out a way to make the otters further your plot or character development in an earth-shattering way. Just don't.

- Including dialogue that doesn't fit the region/time period/world. There's nothing that jars me out of an entrancing fantasy novel than reading a phrase straight from the good ole USA in 2009. If Freud doesn't exist in that world, a character can't complain about someone's big ego. Finding another way to express the same idea takes longer, but it strengthens the authenticity of the setting.

- While we're talking about setting... a big no-no is letting your setting just sit there. Let your characters interact with it, and let it interact with them. This includes weather, traffic, buildings, nature, etc. Setting shapes everything, so why not use it to the fullest? (See Janice Hardy's blog for a great post on this.)

- Abusing adjectives and adverbs. I violently, intensely loathe and despise the ridiculous overuse and obnoxious abuse of descriptive adjectives and lofty adverbs. To put it simply: they make me want to vomit all over a page. Also, if your character/setting/kitchen toaster has a distinctive feature, don't mention it every time it appears in a scene. Your readers are smart; they'll remember that Julian has washboard abs and that the stained glass windows sparkle in the sunlight. Only mention it when it has weight in a scene.

- Writing what you want to happen. As authors, we fall in love with our characters. We're like doting parents who invest countless hours of our lives into raising them, so of course we only want the best for them. That, we cannot always give. Are Cindy and Ralph destined to be together? Yessiree. But not until chapter 26, and it's chapter 2. At most, you give them furtive, sexually charged glances. Not a full-fledged makeout scene. And Cindy can't be promoted at her new job because she's only been there for a week, and she kinda sucks at it. Make your characters work for their happy endings!

But what's the most giant pothole of them all? Not writing. Maybe you read this list and blushed because you're guilty of one or all of these transgressions. Maybe the list inflated your sense of awesomeness to mythic proportions because you haven't done any of this once. (Can we be friends?) But if you don't write, you won't figure any of this out. Pretty obvious, but I didn't want anyone to leave me threatening notes thirty years from now because I crushed their dreams and they never recovered. (Though having the power to do that is pretty awesome for a control freak like me.)

Alright, so there's my advice-that-fits-into-lunchtime. Your turn: Agree? Disagree? Did I miss some huge pothole? Tell, tell!

4 comments:

  1. Ooh, don't forget everyone's favorite, showing vs. telling. I feel like this is one of the hardest potholes to spot in your own writing.

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  2. Oh God Donna, you're making me want to curl up and hide in a corner and never come out bc I know I am SOOOOOO guilty of two things...eeek I fear your wrath. Why do I ge the feeling that one of those ideas was specifically for me? I'm hiding in my corner...with the dancing leprechauns in the middle of my story!

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  3. Also pot holes make me think of plot holes! Plot holes are bad...they tear down the walls of your world building and believability and stump the writer from writing more.

    And any kid of road metaphor is very apt for our group considering our first entry involved our infamous car crash!

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  4. Very, very good post. I particularly like the bit on setting.
    That's a big part of any scene, and the characters have to be conscious of it - or they're just standing on a dark stage talking to each other and listening to their echoes.
    Thanks a bunch.

    ReplyDelete

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