As we all do, I've been spending some reflective moments contemplating writing, the world of writing, and how I can improve my own. In fact, I've been keeping a running record of tactics or habits or actions that I find distasteful in books I read, papers I grade, and even movies I watch. Of course, this doesn't mean that my own writing is immune -- but I'm trying. And being aware is half the battle.
Then, a month or so ago, Amber Argyle composed a post about mistakes amateur writers make. Lady Glamis followed up with a more in-depth post about flashbacks. Since I had been thinking about this very subject, I kept an eye out for like-minded bloggers, and then -- this week -- our very own Diane Gallant discussed writing like a reader and focusing on creating work you, yourself, would like to read. She touched on things she disliked in books, and it prompted me to pull out my list again.
It's time, then, to present my own top five mistakes that beginning writers make. There are, of course, more scribbles on my list, but these are the five that beckon today.
1. Cliche'd beginnings, middles, or endings: I know: the publishing world wants you to write something that is familiar but different. Tough request. But if you don't add that creative twist, that flavor that is distinctly you, you're doomed. I must say that Lois McMasters Bujold completely blew me away with her Chalion series...not only did it feel real and natural and familiar, but she injected intriguing, non-predictable elements.
2. Beginning or ending with a dream. A lot of my junior high students like to use this one. Not only is it 'so last century', but it's also a cop-out. Write strong; you won't need a dream to pull readers into your work or to help ease them out of a bad plot.
3. Head Hopping (vs. Point of View shifts): When one leaps between brains or view points within the same scene, it's not only annoying but it's confusing. You never want to confuse your audience. Yes, I've already posted about this. And then D. M. McReynolds wrote a thought-provoking post and further fleshed out the topic when he guest-blogged for me back in October. I won't belabor the point: suffice it to be said that one shouldn't engage in head hopping.
4. Repetition & redundancy, ad nauseam. My high school art teacher told me to leave some lines unfinished because the viewer likes to engage in the experience as well, becoming part artist and filling in the missing pieces with her own experiences. The same applies, I think, to writing. We readers are not particularly short on brains. I just threw a book across the room where every single action, thought, or plot point was repeated at least five different ways. It's wearisome and, frankly, a bloody waste of a reader's time!
5. Absence of dialogue: I just finished reading a delightful (in potential plot) short story that held no dialogue. I felt bogged down, as if I were slogging through spring mud. Dialogue drives writing forward, injecting action into a piece that might otherwise feel stagnant. It also allows for "show don't tell" if done with a delicate touch. Of course, the pendulum can swing the other way -- but that's another entry on the ever-expanding list.
By no means is this a comprehensive list -- so tell me your pet peeves in the writing world. What drives you bonkers or erects road blocks or sets off the warning bells? Agent Nathan Bransford blogged a bit back about books beginning with the protag staring out a window... there has to be a million things out there that we should avoid. What do you have to add to the list?