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Common Errors Writers Make Part 2: Kill A Good Story

Jun 1, 2008
From Rita Jamison's Freelance Writing Workshop; Adult Education, Los Altos, CA, 2005

Your plot's great. Your theme is awesome. You have a beginning, middle and end with interesting characters -- No problem sitting and writing a story; no writer's block -- But it bombs. No one reads beyond page one or two. Who killed it? Probably you! You probably didn't polish and buff the finish. You wrote with your heart but didn't rewrite with your brain.

What should your brain do for you when you rewrite? What are the common pitfalls you absolutely must avoid?

TELLING INSTEAD OF SHOWING:

Remember Creative Writing 101? Remember the most frequent error a writer makes? Remember SDT ("Show, Don't Tell.") Show how your characters react with Visceral and Layered Description; Describe the character's uncontrollable response to her location and conflict with some or all of her five senses, mood and feelings. The most banal physical object imparts this set of body reactions and all of us recognize and relate to if you, the author use your brain to rewrite.

For example: "There was a pencil on the table.") (Not very interesting) vs. "Straight as a warrior's arrow the sharp pencil on the table pointed at Charles. He picked it up and put the point in his mouth. It tasted metallic, tinny; the shaft smelled like sawdust in butcher shops of yore, when he was a boy. How the pencil screeched as he wrote the words that completely relaxed him: "I am not afraid of Mr. Hollerhan."

Don't you want to know more?

NARRATION VS. DIALOGUE AND INCIDENT

(Another "Show, Don't Tell.") Tell your story through conversation and action.

Above all, Do not preach; Do not patronize; Avoid homily!

There is probably a place for narration in an instruction manual, personal journal, scientific and philosophical treatise or theses -- and maybe there are more -- but there's little use for it in your story. It will make a good outline in your first heart-driven draft. That's why writers have brains. Use the brain in rewrite and keep on rewriting until you've eliminated the bland and the boring and replaced it all with exciting, colorful exposition flowing out of dialogue and incident.

BE ORIGINAL

Avoid clichés. Unless a cliché is used in dialogue to help define a witless character, I can't think of any good use of it. You are a creative writer. There's nothing creative about clichés. They are the identification tag of an amateur -- and a poor one at that.

Avoid excessive punctuation. How much is excessive? I don't know. But I can feel it. This, however, is really a meaty subject for a whole other article, which I expect to produce and share with you very soon.

USE STRONG VERBS, COLORFUL ADJECTIVES, NO ADVERBS: For example:

"Joe sat quietly thinking of revenge." vs. "Joe sank onto a bench. Dry-mouthed and wet-palmed he obsessed in silence as he wove his plan to get even."

SIMILES SPARKLE USE GOOD, ORIGINAL SIMILES. They bring poetry to your prose.(No clichés, please!)

Ed. Note: Need a stronger verb? If you're using MS Word, to find good synonyms place curser on the word you want to improve on (for verb, infinitive is best) and right-click. Click on Synonyms) in drop down box.
About the Author
Melvin M. Harter is a retired physician. He specialized in evaluation of the causes and extent of injury and disability. He has become a freelance writer and author of the novel, Some Kind of Angel. This sci-fi thriller explores the world of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and genocide. For more, visit Some Kind of Angel and view the video trailer.
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