The wonder of story-telling can be shared in two ways--the oral and the written forms. Either way, it's up to the story-teller to translate the story from her thoughts so it can enlighten and/or entertain her audience. This is no easy task in either case. The story-teller has to choose the best words to give the impression of the story without dictating it. She also has to create engaging characters the reader can somehow connect with or those that will intrigue the reader.
No problem, right?
Now that all of you have wiped the tears of laughter from your eyes, I will continue.:) Writing something that serves its purpose and gives the reader the satisfying experience it promises is one of the hardest, albeit one of the most wonderful, endeavors someone can undertake. Writing is a craft, and its artisans must learn how to use the tools of the trade to get done what they want to get done. One of the aspects of writing fiction I love is that I will never know or master it all, ever, and that makes it intriguing. Writers have those five elements of fiction floating around that have to be wrangled--character, plot/conflict, setting, POV, and theme--plus all the elements of the writer's chosen genre to incorporate.
Along with all the things we have to do right when we sculpt our stories, there are so many things we must avoid doing wrong. A few of the posts have already mentioned a few of these pitfalls, but I've been reading quite a bit lately, and I've noticed a few other problems in some of the books that detracted from my overall enjoyment of the novel. I've noted them for my own future reference, and I thought this would be a good time to share them since the topic this week is writing craft.
I don't mean characters of questionable morals here. I mean characters who are defined in the story by a character sketch the author sticks in somewhere to tell readers all the information s/he needs to know about said individual. The dialogue and actions of a character should do this as the story unfolds, and the character development should be so well integrated that it mimics real life. Rarely do we learn everything about a person's life the minute we meet him. Is all that background information important? Yes, very. However, it shouldn't be included in the story in one big glop, but spread throughout like a delectable spice.
As everyone knows, I love animals, but this is one puppy I don't want to see pop up panting in my story. It's the boggy doggy, a critter that slows or stops the forward movement of the story altogether, bogging it down in literary mire. It can be of any breed, such as a wayward character sketch, a misplaced flashback, or a pesky backstory dump, but it's usually a stray and needs to find a home somewhere else besides your story, usually in a file folder somewhere or the Recycle Bin. Overwriting will also make a story roll over and play dead, so writing lean and mean is vital in keeping this creature at bay.
Tag, You're It!
Dialogue can be a bear, and one of the mistakes a I often see when I read is tags galore even when there are only two people talking. Here's what I mean:
"Roger, I simply can't be with you," said Judith. "I'm pregnant by Derek's brother's cousin, Andre, the lion-tamer."
"But Judith, I'll raise the child as my own. I love you. I love Andre. I love lions," said Roger.
"No! You don't love me at all. You love my sister, Tetrina, from planet Alberon. I saw you two making love under the bridge during the solar eclipse," said Judith.
"Oh Judith, that was a mistake," said Roger. "It was dark. I thought she was you. She was wearing your silky underwear, after all."
"Roger, I don't wear underwear," said Judith.
"Ooops," said Roger.
There's a lot wrong with this example; however, the main flaw I wanted to point out is the overuse of tags, in this case, "said." Even if you shake it up by using a synonym for "said" here and there, a problem still exists. When two characters are having a back and forth, it isn't necessary to tag every line of dialogue. Characters should be so distinctive that tags aren't always needed to identify who is talking to whom.
Especially if you write erotica or erotic romance, you should be aware of this. False endings--well, of course, that's what I meant!--can be confusing to the reader and ruin a wonderful story, because the actual climax then becomes anti-climatic. If you resolve a huge internal or external conflict before the characters are ready and introduce another one to keep the story going, why should the reader keep reading? It's like starting another book entirely, and it may not be the book your reader wanted to read.
This Ain't Math Class...
So going off on a tangent is not a good thing. Nor is going off on a sine or cosine, or throwing in a hyperbola when you want hyperbole. Subplots are often the culprits in leading the writer away from the main story and trapping her somewhere in Tangent Land, because it's easy to get caught up in trying to make all the threads of the book come together. Sometimes an author will include extra scenes designed to highlight some aspect of a character or to enrich an exotic setting. If you as the reader know way more about the hibiscus plant and other flora and fauna native to Hawaii than you do the main story, then the writer has gone off on a tangent.
I could list more, but I'm out of time for now. Does anyone else have a writing pitfall s/he tries to avoid?