• Ejuen Armstrong

More Ups and Downs in Writerland

Writing ... well, it's easy, innit?


Most of us start out thinking that writing is a doddle; there's nothing to it, right? You just pick up a pen and paper, or some other fancy implement, and you began with Once Upon a Time. After all, isn't that how all the best writers did it?


Well, maybe back in the Jurassic Age - but not so much these days. Writing is a fine art, no pun, and always a constant learning curve. This post looks at more newbie errors and how to avoid making them yourself.


1. Irreverence


The danger of loving humour - guilty ... it's a coping mechanism, dammit! - is that you may end up taking no subject seriously. Everything has to be imbued with some irreverence or cynicism. Sometimes this can work brilliantly, especially if its self-effacing. Otherwise, you may end up sounding more arrogant than a science-fiction writer who just wants everyone to know they got the A in Physics.


Not all of the characters in your story or book are going to be having a laugh. Some may be depressed or unhappy. Listen to your inner voice on what these characters are saying. Respect their environment, setting, and personality. A sober character won't be cracking jokes at a funeral, but one who's a noted wit may well do it. Take each protagonist/antagonist seriously.


2. Lack of Clarity


If you think you're being witty and clever, it may mean you're not paying enough attention to plot and continuity. If like me you start out writing a drivel of dialogue that flits back and forth with your own internal brilliance of wit, don't be surprised if no one knows what you're talking about. The thing is not to be so confident that you expect everyone to know what you've written, and then get upset when they don't.


This doesn't mean that you use your blog or platform to scream at those who don't 'get it.' I've seen angry writers use social media to complain about all the 'morons' who failed to appreciate their brilliance.


That's the whole point of studying literature; so readers can figure out just what the hell James Joyce's is talking about in Finnegan's Wake.


3. Trying to Explain Your Story Line by Line


The flip side of this is explaining your story line by line to spell out the entire plot for readers. Here's a word of advice: don't. Not even when submitting to an agent or publisher. No one cares, and you'll only make things worse. They look you in the eye and say, "Oh yes, of course! I get it now."


Actually, no, they don't get it at all. They're just saying that to stop you from killing them. Stop explaining. You're only adding more fuel to the fire. Let someone else do it for you. That's the whole point of studying literature; so readers can get their heads around works like James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.


Actually, no, they don't get it at all. They're just saying that to stop you from killing them.


4. He Said, She Said, He Said

So you've got five characters in a room. From both sexes. Speaking to or across each other. You'll have to distinguish them at relevant points. If you don't, you will confuse the reader, the writer, (that's you) and the world. Every now and again, say their name. Example: "I've never met the man," Joe said tersely.

Let us know what they're called. Otherwise the reader won't know what's going on. ("So who's speaking now?" ) Eventually, they won't care.


The flip side of this is John said then Jane said then John said. You don't need it when there are only two people in the conversation. Once you've told the reader who's who, there's no need to keep repeating names: your reader can usually distinguish between the two, especially where there are two different sexes.


John picked up the cup again. Lin and Abdul watched curiously as John examined it. John turned slowly towards them. "This isn't lipstick," John said. "It's blood."


One option would be:


John picked up the cup again. Lin and Abdul watched curiously as he examined it. He turned slowly towards them. "This isn't lipstick," he said. "It's blood."


Stop explaining. You're only adding more fuel to the fire.

5. Academia


Whenever possible, avoid using lots of long complex words. No one needs to know you ate a dictionary for breakfast. You're trying to entertain, not intimidate. In any case, some readers may have complex working lives that are already full of legalese. When they pick up a book they may want nothing more than to chill and breathe. They don't need to be rifling through Google Thesaurus to find something to help them decipher every other word you've written.


Actually, none of that would happen. They'd just stop reading your book and move on. A literary style is great within context. However, in creative fiction, you don't want to be labelled as 'trying too hard':


It was against a perfunctory whisper of the the wind that the snails wound down their luminescent trail like hyperbole on a silk sail rushing over the ocean waves; deep down into the souls of the planet. It was Machiavellian schadenfreude; he thought it so ... and it was so.


It would be early morning before he would sense her, feel her scent blowing over his burgeoning resentment, his desperation and need for her. ...her thing as the snails sang their glorious songs in the wind...


6. Being Seduced by Your Own Literary Example


As in ... "Actually, that sounds all right! Think I might have a something there..."


No. No, you haven't. Breathe, step back and ask yourself: do I need to explain this bit in more than six sentences? Will I understand this in a month from now? Well, if you're having to hum and hah over the answer, then it could be time to review whether you want your story to be added to the list of obscure texts in history.


#writing #humour #writingmistakes #newwriters #commonassumptions

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