Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Question on What Errors Are Most Common With New Writers ?

Question: What are some of the serious errors made by writers?

My response:
I'll define errors as not following the major techniques of good writing, and since this varies so greatly it's difficult to answer, but over the years, I've noticed some common problems among newer writers and so I'll name some of the major ones. Some of these are point of view, pacing, dialogue and its tags, and passive writing.

Point of view (POV) seems to be one of the most difficult techniques to master. POV refers to through which character's eyes we view the scene. The decision is to give the scene to the character with the most at stake and the one from whom readers will gain more insight. Each scene has one POV---in other words, one character who is living out this scene for the readers. It is through that character that we experience everything and its the only character whose introspection we hear. As a reader, we can only hear, see, touch, taste and feel what that one character does. We cannot know what's in the head or heart of another character in the scene, so if the POV character sees another character's response or action, the POV character can only speculate what the non-POV character is feeling or thinking. This is fundamental to good writer, and yes sometimes well-known authors break this rule, but don't unless you are as established and well-known as that writer.

Pacing, covered in an earlier blog, refers to starting the story at the point of change and keeping each scene moving forward. Some writers tend to weigh down the opening chapters with backstory or with chitchat that doesn't provide anything meaningful to the story. As you write a scene, ask yourself what pertinent insight and information is learned from this scene that couldn't be learned some other way. If you can't answer the question, then delete the scene and write one that drives the characters deeper into conflict. A page-turning novel begins with action at the spot where something changes the life of the main character. Then as the story moves forward, pacing is making sure that every scene moves the plot forward by by providing new information or new insight to characterization, and strengthens or adds conflict.

Dialogue is another major problem. Real life conversation does make good fiction dialogue. People in everyday life talk too much about nothing important. Every piece of dialogue must do the same as every scene. It must move the story forward by providing new information, deeper insight into the characters and conflicts or set up a situation or conflict that is to come. Dialogue also needs to be like real dialogue, using contractions, half sentences, echoing questions or what was just said, avoiding responses and cutting off another character's sentence. This makes the dialogue real. Rather than using dialogue tags (he said, she said--and avoid using most responses other than said and asked--dialogue can be blended with action beats and introspection to bring it to life. Example: Ruby leaned forward, jambing her fist to her hip. "If you think I care about one word of your excuse, you don't know me very well." You know who's speaking without a "Ruby said" following the line. Avoid overuse of character names in dialogue, such as: "Yes, Ruby, I understand." We don't talk that way in real life.

Passive writing destroys action and imagery necessary for a good story. Writers should strive for active writing—to show not tell, to select the most appropriate verb so that adverbs can be removed, and to enhance visual descriptions. Instead of walked slowly use crept, inched, ambled, meandered—verbs that capture the mood of the story and create a vivid picture of the action. Remove deadwood phrases from the story like: there were, there was, it was and replace the "to be" verb - was - with active verbs. For example, instead of: She was beautiful, say something like: Her face glowed like sunshine, radiating from her heart. See how much more interesting and visual that is than using "was."

Showing not telling all of the other elements will be featured in a writing entry eventually, but this gives you a few things to think about.


Sherrie Ashcraft said...

Excellent points, Gail. I've been there, done that (the wrong way) with each of your examples. When I look at the past eight years and see how much my daughter, Christina Berry, and I have learned about writing, it's really exciting!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Sherrie -- I was there, too. I think of the messes I submitted when I first began to write. I had no idea how to write a novel, b ut my mother thought it was the greatest book written. (laughing) I learned fast and sold in a year, but even then, my writing has changed so much in the past ten years I've been writing and I wish I'd had a book like Writing the Christian Romance when I started.

Thanks and glad you agree.

Glynis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glynis said...

This was so useful, thank you. The information was clear and precise, and will help me. I have already thought of one chapter that will benefit from what I read here. I am at the early learning stage LOL