Thursday, March 20, 2008

Writing Bloopers: search and destroy! by DL Larson

Once again my office desk is laden with partial manuscripts I have agreed to judge for a romance writers contest. Reading through each is rewarding and I am constantly astounded at the diversity yet similarity of ideas we writers have. Another thing brought to my attention is the common mistakes made. So ... I want to share a few of these problems and in so doing, help others learn how to search their work, and kick those no-good words out of their script in order to create stronger stories.

In no particular order:

It was/there was:
Now every writer needs those simple words, yes I have used them. But when they are splattered across the page - that's called lazy writing. Most times it's not necessary to say "it was." And certainly not several on any given page!
Example: It was an unusual sound to be heard this early in the morning.
Reworked: The sound was unusual this early in the morning.

Most times, with a little effort, the sentence becomes stronger and the reader is given a precise and succlulent image rather than the boring it was statement. When searching out "it was" bloopers, don't read the words on your page, simply scan down each paragraph, circling each one you find. Go through a chapter at a time. And then sit back and evaluate what you have discovered. If your pages are splattered with markings, then you've discovered one of your weak traits. And now you know one of many ways to fix the problem. Good luck!

The He/She sentence structure:
Again, many fall into a routine with sentence structure. The above exercise will help with discovering this problem too. Take the time to simply scan your pages, circling the He/She/They sentence beginnings. I was always told if you have more than three or four sentences starting with He/she, then you have too many.
Gotta mix it up, folks. The simplest fix is to rearrange your sentence structure, try putting a phrase before the statement. Perhaps linking a few phrases together would work, thereby eliminating another he/she sentence. Be imaginative! The goal is to make it interesting, intriguing. Similar is boring. Big yawn here.

That word!
I'm not going to say too much, only that that is over-used, abused and should be thrown out if at all possible. If you think you don't have that problem, do the circle test and find out. Good luck!

Same word usuage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now we're getting into one of my pet peeves. Thesaurus, people. Buy a good, wordy thesaurus and be creative in describing your characters, your setting, your everything!. Every entry I have judged, some dozen in this packet, this is a VERY big problem. I don't understand this concept. Finding new words should be the fun part of writing, finding another word to describe what needs explaining. This lack of imagination is lazy writing. Oops! Did I really write that? Too late now.

Since we're on pet peeves, here's another one: Beautiful
Okay, I'm judging historical romances, yes, she's beautiful! But the reader needs more than the writer's word. Descriptions move the story, show the reader what the character looks like, more importantly what she's like as a person. Details and more details are what is needed. I would love to read a book where beautiful is not mentioned once, but the sense of beauty is in every word about her/him, the inner beauty, the all important beauty, not the physical attributes only. I bet publishers would enjoy seeing such descriptions as well.

Underlining Thoughts
I must be old-school, because this is driving me batty!!!! The need to underline simple thoughts is not necessary. I don't know what English instructors are doing these days, but this interruption is really distracting. Since I have not attended an English class in some time, I won't say stop doing that, but I will tell you, I've lost interest at wondering if I'm supposed to enphasize those words in my mind, shout them out or something??? Underlined thoughts pull me out of the story. And folks, if it pulls me out, someone who loves to read, it will undoubtedly pull your reader out too. And that, ain't the idea at all!!!!

Paper Characters:
I'm talking about the minor characters not brought to life. Another big problem in the entries I've judged. Each character, no matter how minor, should be real to the reader. Introducing characters is never easy, but let the reader know the relationship between the main character and the new ones. By doing this, the reader grasps the connection, or lack of connection and develops a clearer picture of the plot unfolding. Physical description is crucial too, but it's the relationship between the characters that will bring them to life.

Withholding important information:
Don't confuse intrigue with insightful information. The reader needs to know why your character doesn't believe in love anymore, or why she can't go back home. A long explanation is not needed, but a hint of past problems, conflict enriches the story. It's not giving anything away, it's pulling the reader into the story. If some explanation is not given in a timely fashion, the reader becomes frustrated and may set the book aside. Not good. This confusion over delving out information when appropriate is another VERY big problem. My suggestion is to read, read, read, how others do it and then follow what you learned from them.

Too Many Questions:
When the main character continually poses questions to no one but themselves, it becomes distracting. Most times, turning questions into statements or thoughts serve the reader better, even if another sentence has to follow to make it clear. Let your reader pose the questions, not you, the writer.
Example: Could one so fair-haired and benign be John's brother?
Reworked: One so fair-haired and benign couldn't be John's brother.

I hope these common bloopers I've mentioned will help you tighten up your manuscript. Mentioning them is meant to help others from making the same mistakes. Finding a publisher is not easy, and they are a tough crowd to please. I know I only mentioned a smattering of solutions to you, but sometimes fixing the problem is the easy part, finding the mistake in the first place is the biggest hurdle.

Good hunting!

And have a hippity-hoppity Easter!
Til next time ~

DL Larson

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