We all make mistakes. Especially those of us who write fiction for fun. And that’s totally okay. It goes with the territory. But the problems arise when we fail to recognize our mistakes and try to correct them.
And just for fun, I’ll have Bill the Water Tower Jumper tag along on this post as well:
1. Really. Actually. Seriously.
I catch myself throwing in these helper words far to often. I guess, in my head, my prose feels more natural or conversational when I do this. But let’s be real. It comes off at best too wordy, and at worst amateurish. (Bill really couldn’t believe it. He seriously was actually going to got through with his plan.)
2. He did this, then did that.
This is one of my most common bad writing habits. I combine two actions into one sentence. It’s okay to do this occasionally if you’re writing an action scene and want to keep the up with pace of the story, but in most cases, it’s best to stick with only one action per sentence. (Bill buckled up his seat belt, then turned on the radio.)
3. He did this. He did that. He did the other.
Oh, this is so terrible. I rely on dialog so much (usually way too much) that if I have an extended scene without any dialog I catch myself doing this. (Bill turned off the car. He looked up at the water tower. He climbed. He got to the top. He looked down.) The last thing you want is for your narrative to suddenly becomes a list of singular actions. It bores the reader, and is especially bad when each of these actions begin with the same word. Mix things up.
4. “I don’t need to show you that, I’ll have my character tell you instead.”
Ah, yes. Me and my dialog. In my earlier days writing, a first draft might look more like a page from a comic book without any art. Nothing but dialog. It’s bad form to tell the story entirely through dialog, and almost lazy. (“Wow, I’m all the way up here on a water tower ready to jump. Man, am I scared or what?”, said Bill.) The worst is when you put the characters in a scene where they are telling each other things they already know just to convey the message to the reader.
5. Okay, now how do we get you down?
This is more of a problem with storytelling and plotting than of writing technique, but I’ve got plenty of short stories sitting in an unfinished folder because I don’t know how to wrap things up once I get to the end. At least not without sounding forced. I put Bill up the tower. He’s looking down and getting ready to jump. But I don’t want him to die.
So what do I do? I have no idea.
You don’t want a deus ex machina because that shows you couldn’t come up with a real ending. You don’t want a “come to Jesus” moment either because that would negate the whole point. (Bill thought about his daughter and climbed back down.) So, what if he jumps in the end? It’s the opposite of deus ex machina, but leaves the reader thinking the same thing, that the author couldn’t come up with an ending. Sometimes the only way to avoid this is to get to the ending, put it away, and think about it for a while. It also never hurts to have some sort of ending in mind when you start the story.
So there’s my list. You’re invited to leave a comment with yours.