Writing Mistakes, Part 2

Puny Banner poses beside Hulk’s Car.

Well, I finally performed the proper web site magics to add Stalking the Beast to the Home Page book slider. I forgot how I had done it the last time, so it took a good chunk of the evening.

Today I wanted to take another quick look at parts of my Writing Mistakes list, particularly the ones I thought needed clarification. I’ll just pick the ones that sound vague to me and offer more explanation. If there were some from last week that you wanted to know more about, drop me a line.
  • Don’t excuse plot flaws with dialogue: By this I mean if you’re aware of a plot flaw and are afraid that the readers will be aware of the plot flaw, one possible way to address it is by having the characters talk through it, so that the readers knows that you know and you wink at each other. I think it can work for comedy, but for adventure fiction… I just try to fix the plot problem.
  • Keep a clear through line: If at any point in the story a friend stops you and says hey, what’s the book about and you can’t explain why the characters are doing what they’re doing (Indy’s after the headpiece to the staff of Ra) you may have a problem. If you, the writer, can’t explain what the characters are doing and why, you can bet that your readers are going to be even more muddled.
  • Know the difference between procrastination and incubation AND Trust starting reluctance. There may be something wrong with the scene: These two points are closely related. Some days I’m lazy and don’t feel like writing, and on those days I just need to put the butt in the chair and get to work. But sometimes I’ve discovered that I’m hesitating not because I’m lazy but because there’s something wrong — the plot doesn’t really work or the characters aren’t well enough motivated. THAT means that the story needs to incubate, so perhaps during writing time on that particular day what I need to do is make sure I understand what all the characters want, make sure that all the characters are necessary, and that I have a clear through line.
  • Play to your strengths — dialogue, character interaction, small cast: In first draft especially I think it’s important to play to your strengths. This particular part of the list is especially relevant to me. Dialogue and character interaction come quickly for me (once I know the characters) and those scenes are easy to write. Sometimes vast sections of my rough draft consist of dialogue and what reads basically like stage directions. I can come back later and add in poetic metaphor. If dialogue isn’t your particular strength, build your rough draft framework on whatever your strength is.
  • Trouble revising? Read sections out of order: This one’s probably clear enough, but just in case — I find that when I’m revising I can gloss over things that later pop-up and hit me in the head with a hammer (how did so much word echo get in here after I’ve revised it? Wasn’t that character dead two chapters back?) When I feel like I’m zoning out too much, I’ve discovered that I can get my mojo back by reading chapters or scenes out of order.

5 Comments on “Writing Mistakes, Part 2

  1. Pingback: My List of Writing Mistakes : Howard Andrew Jones

  2. This is all such good advice. I revised my novel by each chapter, starting with the last and working my way back. It was at times confusing but overall I think it helped me read with more clarity.

  3. Dialogue has always been one of my strengths as well. I use it for characterization and often to move the story forward. I think dialogue is very important when you write in the first person as you often do, because since you’re limited to one character’s viewpoint, you have to use dialogue to help define the other characters. Just like in real life readers have to watch what they do and listen to what they say to try and understand them.

  4. Background details can be revealed gradually
    Get reader involved with characters before the huge plot arcs start
    Background details can be revealed gradually

    I’d like to hear more of *your* thoughts about these three items. I have seen a lot lately about whether to start “in media res” or to give the reader a chance to know and care about the character(s) involved. I understand all of your reminder notes, but I would like to see the thinking you do to navigate that problem.

    I was referred to your site by Alma Alexander and I’m very glad! Thanks for sharing.


    • Hi Anne, thanks for visiting.

      As far as background details being added gradually, by that I mean to avoid the tendency to tell everything one knows about a subject the moment it’s introduced. That’s deadly for the plot and character development. I just saw a use of this last night while re-watching the movie WRECK-IT RALPH with the family. The characters discuss the phrase “Going Turbo” several times before it’s finally defined, with the story behind it.

      As far as getting the reader involved with characters, it’s hard to care about everything that’s going on — wars, plagues, deaths, births, mysteries — if we don’t first care about the people to whom this stuff is happening. It IS possible to get us involved in media res, but that has to be done with great care and might merit a separate post on its own.

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