Friday, October 7, 2011

Happy Friday :-)

I think today's post is going to be me ranting about some common errors that irk me not as a writer but as a reader of books, which I adore. 

Rant One – Typos, Grammatical Errors, Editing Misses

Have you ever been reading a really good story, so good that you aren't aware of the noises around you because the story has captured you so completely, the pace is great and your heartbeat is racing and you can't wait to find out what happens next and then you stumble upon a grammatical error and all is lost? This has happened to me and I have to remind myself that this isn’t always the author's fault as their work has been through editing with the editors and it should be 100% perfect....shouldn't it? When this happens it detracts from the story and from the quality of the product being sold. It also makes readers wary of the next book they may read from the same author if the book is published by the same publishing company. I mean how can a professional editor not catch these obvious errors?

Rant Two -- Story Line Errors

Another example of what really frustrates me is authors who create wonderful series and then slip with the story line (e.g., in book one they stated one of the characters had a university degree, but in book five it was suddenly a college they attended). This may seem like a small slip, but if your reader is really enjoying the characters and they are believable, it can ruin the entire story for them because it reminds them that the story is fiction and not real. Once this happens, their interest in reading more of the same series could certainly fade.

Rant Three -- Empty Adjectives (or Adverbs)

These are words that promise emphasis, but too often they don’t deliver and end up sucking the meaning out of the sentence. Examples that come to mind: actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally.

To demonstrate, consider the following sentence: “It was, in fact, the only row that actually opened onto the creek.” This sentence attempts to emphasize “in fact,” and “actually”, but they just muddle the sentence. You could remove them both and the word “only” can carry the burden of the sentence with efficiency and precision.

That is not to say that empty adjectives / adverbs are useless. In dialogue, they may sound appropriate, even authentic, but if you're not watchful, they can make your characters sound wordy, infantile and dated.

Rant Four -- Flat Writing

Flat writing is an indication that you’ve lost interest in your own narrative and if you aren’t excited about the story, how can you expect your readers to want to keep reading? If you begin to notice that your writing is veering this way, take a break from writing and see if you can’t refuel your story line. Spend time thinking about how to give the story depth, texture and character or you will end up having sentences like: “He wanted to know but couldn’t understand what she had to say, so he waited until she was ready to tell him before asking what she meant.” This sentence is trying to convey something but the writing is so flat that nobody reading it will likely take the time to figure out what that may be. You can’t “fix” a sentence like this with a few replacement words. Instead, you need to rewrite completely.

Rant Five - Crutch Words

I recently read a novel that used the word "macabre" repeatedly throughout the entire book in places sometimes where it wasn’t in line with the balance of the sentence and after awhile I was frustrated with that word, the story and the author. I mean, really is everything repellent macabre? I doubt it, and even if that is the essence you are trying to convey, I'm sure there are many other words in the English language that could be used that would probably have more impact. This type of error will really disappoint and frustrate readers after a while and will detract from the story you've worked so hard to tell.

Rant Six – Phony Dialogue

Be careful of using dialogue to advance the plot. Readers can tell when characters talk about things they already know, or when the speakers appear to be having a conversation for our benefit. Instead, dialogue should be used to offer glimpses into the character that can’t be provided through description. The dialogue should highlight the character's hidden wit, thoughtful observations, a revelation and should work towards “showing” us what the author can’t “tell” us.

Rant Seven – Lists

“She was entranced by the roses, hyacinths, impatiens, mums, carnations, pansies, irises, peonies, hollyhocks, daylilies, morning glories, larkspur…” Well, she may be entranced, but our eyes are glazing over.

If you’re going to describe a number of items, turn up the visuals. Lay out the scene as the eye sees it, with emphasis and emotion in unlikely places. When you list the items as though we’re checking them off with a clipboard, the internal eye will close.

Rant Eight – Show, Don’t Tell

If you say, “she was stunning and powerful,” you’re “telling” your reader something. However, if you say, “I was stunned by her elegant carriage as she strode past the jury – shoulders erect, elbows back, her eyes wide and watchful,” you’re “showing’ your reader, which enables them to visualize the picture you’re trying to paint.

Handsome, attractive, momentous, embarrassing, fabulous, powerful, hilarious, stupid, fascinating are all words that “tell” us in an arbitrary way what to think. They don’t reveal, don’t open up, don’t describe in specifics what is unique to the person or event described. Often they begin with clich├ęs.

What frustrates you as a reader?

Have a great day!


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