Friday, June 10, 2011

The Usual Suspects That Weaken Your Writing

Hi all! Welcome to another installment of Guest Post Friday! Today's special guest is D.U. Okonkwo, although he's probably better known as D.U.O. from D.U.O Says... For those of you who haven't been there before, D.U.O. Says... deals with the various aspects of writing, from waiting for agent responses to talking to ourselves as well as some other aspects to life. This is definitely one of my favorite blogs that I visit without even looking at the post's title. I hope you'll go over there and say hi! 

Take it away, D.U.O.

The Usual Suspects That Weaken Your Writing

I'm part of different online writing critique groups and get to review other writers opening chapters. In return I get mine reviewed.

Something I've noticed while reading is that many writers don’t seem to read enough. Reading makes it easier to avoid what I call ‘The Usual Suspects That Weaken Your Writing.’ These suspects are rarely seen in published novels.

When I get to review a great sample chapter it’s awesome, and I’m immediately intrigued as to what will happen next. However when I struggle to get past the first line I know I’m in trouble.

Some of the things I've noticed with the stronger chapters are the following:

1. Great characterisation - You can instantly visualise the character because they’re authentic. Consequently you can relate to the problem they face.

2. The writer is trying to hard to write lyrically. With this I mean the writing is simple and therefore brilliantly effective. Every word is there for a reason and it flows well. Trying to make a piece of fiction read like poetry rarely works.

3. Dialogue is realistic - Dialogue can be the hardest thing to write, but when it's done right, it's great.

Some of the things I've noticed with the weaker chapters. These are the usual suspects:

1. Exclamation marks throughout the prose. This is trying to force the reader to have a strong reaction to what you've written. This rarely happens. The reader is new to the story so unlikely to feel any strong emotions yet. Better to craft a scene that engages the reader to have a strong reaction.

2. Making stars out of secondary characters. Others may disagree but for me, I need to know who the main character is. I need to know their name, what their purpose is, and why they are the narrator. Secondary characters should never have a bigger presence than the main character. It’s the main character that should be at the centre of the readers’ mind.

3. A lot of tell, not enough show. We're all guilty of this, and this is where the process of editing makes your writing shine. Instead of saying, 'Mike was angry,' for example, you can replace it with something more demonstrative such as, ‘Mike’s face tightened / Mike gritted his teeth.' The word angry needn't be said at all, the reader will get it.

What do you all think makes a good/bad chapters? Any pet loves/hates when reading?

Thanks so much for this great post, D.U.O.! I know I now have a few things to look out for in my writing.

Any of my bloggy friends can book a Guest Post Friday slot. I still have plenty open, from the third week of July onwards. You can post about anything you like, as long as it is reading/writing/literary world related. If you're interested, please contact me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com for more information or to book a slot. Can't wait to hear from you!


Julie said...

I always enjoy D.U.O.'s blog, and this is a great post. These kinds of tips are so helpful as I'm trying to slog my way through my first novel. Thanks for sharing!

Cherie Reich said...

Great post with great points. I would add to refrain from over-describing a scene. Sprinkling in details will help the reader form an overall picture, but if the author describes too much, it slows down the pace and causes readers to skip passages. A writer should never want to write something a reader will skim through.

L.G.Smith said...

Good observations, DUO. It isn't always easy for me to identify why an opening isn't working, but you've probably nailed most of the reasons here. I like your point about not letting secondary characters steal the spotlight in the beginning. Whose story is it anyway?

D. U. Okonkwo said...

Very cool! Many thanks for posting this, Misha. Hope others find it useful. Let me know when you want to return the favour on my blog :o)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Awesome points. For me, it's when the story starts with big action, but the writer hasn't given me the chance to get to know the mc first, to connect with her.

I know my writing will never been lyrical, so I don't bother trying. :D

Ricardo Miñana said...

Pasaba a dejarte mis saludos
y que tengas un buen fin de semana.
un abrazo.

Libby said...

Admittedly, I have a rough time with telling not showing in my first drafts. It can truly weaken a piece and make a novel flat.

D. U. Okonkwo said...

@Libby - just read your flash fiction piece and loved it - I'm sure you're on the right track :o)

Anne R. Allen said...

Excellent points. Especially about the secondary characters. I always used to let my books get hijacked by secondary characters. They'd be so much more interesting than my MC, they'd take over the story.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks D.U.O and Misha. Great points, and if they are kept in mind, then the writing certainly shines. First chapters can indeed make or break a writer, especially if a reader wants to put the book down because of all the weaknesses you pointed.

Michael Offutt said...

I agree with you D.U.O. People need to read more and read good literature. I mean I know that there's Twilight and the Hunger Games and it's good to know your genre. But would it kill you to read one work by William Faulkner, Austen, Hemingway, or Vonnegut and analyze how they write and see if you could somehow learn a little bit from the proven masters? Most successful authors all seem to say that they read Jane Austin but having read her works I sometimes wonder if this is a lie. I know Meyer says she was heavily influenced by Jane Austen but I can't tell so from her writing. I can tell that Orson Scott Card was influenced by it.

Jessica R. Patch said...

D.U.O. I have to agree with you on every count! One other thing I don't personally care for is opening paragraphs with nothing but scenery.

LynNerd said...

I like a lot of dialogue if it's well done, and the main character needs to be sympathetic so I care about him/her. Great point about secondary characters. We don't want them to steal the show. Good tips, DUO. Thanks!

Joyce Lansky said...

I would love to swap a first chapter with you! I notice a lot of authors overwrite. Someone recently said that there is no such thing, but I strongly disagree!

I also dislike seeing stall words, sentences that start the exact same way or with no syntactic variety, and over description. It's great to get a picture of where one's at and who they are with, but I've seen this overdone to the point of tedium. On the other hand, I've see it underdone to the point of feeling like the characters are in a vacuum. It's important to get the right mix.

E-mail me if you'd like to swap a first chapter. My WIP is a MG coming of age novel, and it has not made the rounds much. I also have a YA novel about a kidnapped child of a mobster. This one has made a lot of rounds.


The Golden Eagle said...

Great post!

Exclamation marks throughout prose really irritate me. They can be effective when they're in the right place (I was reading a book my Asimov recently, and he used the exclamation points well) but otherwise they just break things up.

Lynda R Young said...

telling makes me sleepy ;)
And exclamation marks rule!!! But not in a novel ;)
Great post.

Amy said...

Great post D.U.O.

Dialogue is the most difficult to write for me. That is the things I work the most at, to make it feel more realistic. :)

Rosalind Adam said...

I've never been to D.U.O.'s blog but I'll certainly pop along when I've finished here and thanks for the helpful reminders. My pet hates when I'm reading published novels include unnecessary repetition (where was the editor and why was he/she not doing his/her job?) and changes in point of view that happen too quickly.

Marsha Sigman said...

Great advice, all so true. I'm a big fan of...the ellipse. I like dramatic pauses. But I try to control myself when I'm writing a story.

E.C. Smith said...

Wordiness is a big one. . .this includes redundancies. Tell me once. . .I'll get it, I promise. I look for these things in my own writing, so I guess that makes me more sensitive to it in another's story.

Anonymous said...

Great post DUO! (I presume No. 2 is supposed to be 'the writer ISN'T trying too hard to write lyrically', though? ie purple prose)

Girl Friday

Kari Marie said...

These are all really great points DUO. I recently read advice (of course, which blogger said it is escaping me) that we should do a find and replace for all exclamation points in your work. Turn them all into periods and then go back and sprinkle in a few. If it isn't punchy enough without the exclamation mark, there is probably something you can do to make it better.

Reading other people's work is one of the best ways to improve your own. All great points! <---oops. exclamation point.

D. U. Okonkwo said...

@Joyce Lansky - Would be great to swap a chapter with you! Will send you an email and check out your blog

@anon 1.09am - Yes, exactly :o)

Peaches Ledwidge said...

I like what you wrote about making stars out of secondary characters.