I have only been in grad school for about a month and I am already amazed how much I have learned about writing and myself as a writer. It makes me sick to learn all the rookie mistakes I have made as a writer. I feel like should have known better. To prevent any other young writers from falling into the same traps I have gotten my leg stuck into, I am admitting my top five errors I’ve made in my own writing.
- Never use adverbs when using “said”. An example of this would be: “He smugly said”. The reasoning is the dialogue should express the character spoke smugly and the writer shouldn’t feel the need to explain how the character spoke.
- Show, don’t tell. For me, I think I fall victim to this because I was a teacher. I am used to lecturing people and having to explain things many times and in different ways. Readers don’t read because they want to be lectured. Readers read to become a part of the world the author presents. Let the reader live in the world the author created and let the reader take away what he or she can take away from the writing. It will mean more to the reader because he or she discovered something in the writing rather than being told what he or she was supposed to get from the writing.
Also, I think I am so afraid of my writing. I feel like I don’t write the pieces well enough, so I have to tell the reader what I meant by writing the piece. That comes from low writing esteem and in time that fear will dissipate.
- Opening up with the weather or time. My first novel (that my Mac ate) opened with Meredith walking to school on a beautiful fall morning at the start of a new school year. These two things are major no-no’s. With the weather, no one cares about it not unless it is a crucial part of the plot. If it is a great hurricane and the character is struggling to keep the family safe, then the weather description works. However, if the weather is just setting the stage, then trust me no one cares about the stage. Let the characters set the stage.
With time, it’s the same thing. If the time is important because at 12:15pm the main character’s friend died and now the character feels his or her life shifting at that moment, then it might be acceptable. However, if the time is just to set the stage…toss it out. Let the character and his or her actions and reactions tell the reader the time of day.
- 4. Heavy description. Luckily, it is not the Victorian times and writers no longer get paid by the word. Heavy description tends to kill the world the writer creates because the writer is investing too much of him or herself inside the piece. The writer’s job is to create the world and, again, let the reader play in that world. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book or a short story and looked at that heavy prose paragraph and just turned the page. I can recall one book I read and it was describing how some water dripped off a girl’s body. The whole time I was reading it I was frustrated because why do I care how the water dripped off the chick? Apparently it was a well written piece, but again I couldn’t stomach reading it because I didn’t care. That scene served no purpose other than establishing the writer’s ability to write description.
- 5. Writing true dialogue. This is by far one of the most difficult things to do because as a young writer (young meaning new to the game and not chronicle age) one tends to insert the writer’s own voice in the character’s voice. Also, the dialogue tends to be too long and forced. Most people don’t speak to someone for a page and a half without taking a break or moving. In just writing this blog, I have drunk a cup of tea, watched some curling on TV, put towels in the washer, and I’ve been cheating on you by texting a friend. People multi-task and it is crucial when writing dialogue the writer allows the characters to move about as the conversation moves along. My one professor calls it the “floating head syndrome” and I feel that is a great visual to hold in mind when writing dialogue. Are your character’s just floating about having a conversation? Give them action.
With action in dialogue also come speech patterns. People speak over one another. People use slang. People use contractions. Speech isn’t all grammar free and pretty, so don’t write it that way. Speech is also a great way to get a character description across without having to explain everything about the character. Words help define us; allow that to happen in writing.