Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Don’t List: a Reader’s POV

I've been reading a LOT recently for review and for study. Since many of the things I see done not quite right enough tend to be repeated, I thought I'd gather my thoughts about what I've been seeing and share them. Not that I never make any of these mistakes, but focusing on them in other works helps me catch them in my own.

My Don't List from a Reader's POV with a Writer's Experience

1) Don't be too repetitive. If you tell me once that the hero is downright sexy and the heroine is stunned by that, I got it. Once is enough. Move on to what else she discovers about him she likes or dislikes. Same with how bad the villain is. And don't tell us, just show us. The hero doesn't have to keep thinking how nasty he is. We'll see that in his actions.

2) This could be a style choice, but personally ... please don't head hop. I don't want to have to go back a paragraph or two and try to figure out who is in charge of telling the story at the moment because it flips without a break or notice. That throws me from the 'reality' of the action back to "oh, I'm reading a story the author is telling" and I like to stay completely emerged.

3) Don't let your characters address each other by their names too often. We don't do this in real life and having the same name repeated four times in two sentences is annoying. If two people are talking, we know they're talking to each other.

4) Don’t ramble. Write tight! This might sound funny coming from someone who writes literary-type romance and tends to add a lot in to the story, but when I read a book and think the first third of it was almost completely unnecessary, the story is much too loose. Work the pertinent details in throughout the story after the action has already started. A slow beginning is dangerous.

Make sure to go back and CUT what doesn’t need to be there. The reader shouldn’t think, “what was the point of telling me that?” Be ruthless. Keep all that pretty rambling (especially between characters) for yourself, but don’t pass it on to the reader … unless there’s a point to it. I do think there can be a point to it even though it doesn’t push along the story line, in some cases: humor to break tension, a piece of gorgeous description to create mood (if it’s not overdone), dialogue that reveals something about the character. Ask yourself if you would find interest in it as a reader, and be honest.

5) Adverbs! Don’t tell me she whispered quietly or walked loudly. A whisper tells me it’s quiet without the redundancy and by all means, say she stomped. It’s vivid. It’s strong. The difference between:

Max slowly walked over to the dog and carefully put a hand toward him.


Max crept to the dog and nudged a hand toward him.

is a huge difference. Adverbs aren’t taboo, but they should be replaced at least 95% of the time.

6) Tags. I don’t use tags in my own writing because too often they annoyed the heck out of me while I was reading. That may be too extreme, but it proves they can usually be replaced by action instead of the reader having to sort through a shuffle of unnecessary “he said, she said” phrasing. And again, don’t say “he said loudly” or even “he yelled while gulping his soda” – wouldn’t he choke that way? Yes, I’ve seen this kind of tag, the impossible feat.

7) Don’t use catch phrases. In romance, these would be “heaving bosoms” or “throbbing …” or many of the others I see overused. If you’re reading someone else’s work and notice phrases you use, stop and consider if they might be cliché and take them out. If you’re not reading within your own genre, you should. You’ll catch a lot of your own mistakes by noticing them in other works. Spending a few months stuffing yourself with books of your own genre is the best way to see if you’re using too many catch phrases that makes your story sound like everyone else’s. Even within the same genre, you don’t want that.

8) Don’t trust your editor to catch everything! From what I’ve seen in my months of stuffing myself with one genre, they won’t. Study writing rules on your own. Know grammar and vocabulary. The old saying, “if you want something done right” applies here.

9) Don’t trust yourself to catch everything, either. Before final send, get someone with writing knowledge and grammar ability and an eye for typos to go through it. Hopefully you can do this with a crit partner or fellow writer instead of paying someone. Don't use a friend or family member who is more interested in making you feel good than in telling the truth. That's not helpful. The truth might hurt, but it will advance your writing instead of keeping it stifled.

10) Don’t believe you’ll have the perfect manuscript with zero typos. I’ve yet to see one in any genre from any publisher. Readers easily overlook a few minor typos as long as the story is good and well-written. Don’t over-sweat the small stuff, but do try to catch everything you can.

Of course, you’ll never please all readers, but as an avid reader (and writer), these are stand-out things for me and makes the difference between and okay book and a good book I’ll recommend.


Maggie Toussaint said...

These are all great suggestions for tightening a book, Loraine. Wishing you all the best.

Liana Laverentz said...

All excellent points, Loraine! Maybe you can post this on a few other blogs and save a lot of readers some serious frustration :)

LK Hunsaker said...

Thanks Maggie and Liana! I did post it on my blog, as well, since there are lots of new writers there. I keep a folder of tips over there to help anyone looking for help. ;-)

Unknown said...

LORAINE--using each other's names too often is annoying, and I leanred not to do that from a book I was studying--for the very reason you gave. Among your list, I especially tire of the author describing "her emerald eyes" and her"raven black hair" and his "blah,blah,blah." I really become weary of too much description of physical features, and it's a trait I'm seeing more and more. Thanks for these reminders.Celia

Keena Kincaid said...

Great rules, Loraine. I agree completely!

LK Hunsaker said...

Celia, yes, the physical description overkill is definitely annoying. I like a hint of appearance and letting the reader fill in for herself.

Thanks, Keena :-)

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Loraine, these are ALL things that I've learned and adapted to in my writing. I used to use a ton of tags and addressed characters by their names often. My first attempts at writing, All that Remains and Dirty Little Secrets "head hops." I don't trust myself to catch all mistakes and I know my editors and proofreaders don't catch everything either. Sigh...

Nowadays, I think my writing has gotten stronger and I've grown in my craft because I have cut down on a lot of these issues.

What surprises me is how there are still a lot of books out there that still "head hops."

Great post