Monday, December 8, 2008

More About Bad Writing

Now that I'm started, I'm finding it difficult to stop. So I thought I'd add a few more things that ruin a submission.

  • Typos in the first paragraph. Or, worse yet, the first line. Yes, we've all experienced that sinking feeling re-reading the submission we sent out minutes ago and finding "their" instead of "they're" somewhere around the fourth paragraph, or "an" instead of "and." Believe me, I know these things happen. Read some of my posts, and you'll find I'm a terrible proofreader, but writers should take more time with submissions than we do with blog posts we put up several times a week. I can forgive a couple of small errors, but glaring errors right at the start of the read just ruins it for me, and experience has shown that errors in the first paragraph usually mean more errors throughout the piece.
  • Empty descriptions. This is when the writer thinks he is giving us some insight into the character or his surroundings, but doesn't get specific enough to create an image in the reader's mind. Some terms I've come across recently: designer handbag, state-of-the-art kitchen, old-fashioned furnishings. What's wrong with that, you may be asking yourself. They're too vague. Armani and Tommy Hilfiger are both designers, but the cost of their handbags and the type of women who carry them are vastly different. Does a state-of-the-art kitchen comprise stainless appliances and his and hers dishwashers or is it run by remote control? How old fashioned is old fashioned? Are the furnishings from the Depression or the fifties or the sixties? Same goes for terms like tall, slim, and that far too ubiquitous term, "attractive."
  • Where in the city. In another post, I talked about cliched settings. Some writers think they've gotten around this by naming the city in which the character resides, but then that character leaves her apartment and walks down "the street." What street? Then she goes to the coffee shop on the corner. Which corner? Even writers who know well the location they are writing about, make the mistake of thinking details either don't matter or won't matter to readers who don't know the place. That's not true. While you don't want to your story with every street your character takes to arrive at her destination, naming some will resonate with readers who know the place and add a sense of authenticity for those who don't.
That's two ranting posts in a row. I'll try to stop now for a while, but there's just so darned much material.

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