Friday, May 12, 2006

Amateur Night


We have heard , repeatedly, that amateur writing is easily recognizable by the usual suspects - passive voice, slow beginnings, jerry-built structure et al.
Mark Terry ( see sidebar) has one of his usual clear posts on the subject. Read it under "Beginning Writers' Biggest Mistakes."
Hopefully, you have eradicated passive voice from your WIP and begun the beguine with a blast.
Someone has posted about inging whinging and dangling parts over at Miss Snark's.
I split at that point, reluctant to delve into the bowels of participles of speech.
Nevertheless, I've noticed these last few months a couple of other amateur mistakes in narrative - mainly because I had to root out the little suckers from my own effulgent prose.

1. Tentative description. - characterized by use of seemingly, almost, some kind of substance, seemed to be, almost like.
The uncertainty of the amateur transfers to his prose.
He hopes if he's veiled and vague enough no one will call him on it later, or because he has not truly visualized what he's writing about.
Make up your mind, make a decision about the thing you are describing, be definite.
Don't equivocate and dither over whether the alien from outer space wore something almost like combat boots. He is not your mother.
The reader is depending on you to give a clear picture. Give it.

2. Gradiose generalities and loosy-goosy words.
Possibly related to # 1. Possibly caused by injudicious use of a dictionary of antonyms and synonyms, for fear of being considered repetitive.
Words and descriptive phrases like attire, delights, spacious dwelling, pleasant aromas.
Like said, readers don't mind words such as: clothes, house, smell - and if those delights are sexual, they want specifics.

3. Purple crayon.
Crowding the beat with a 2x4.
The attempt to artificially inject drama, emotion, anticipation, danger, by exaggerating some mild action.
"His eyes blazed with approval" - because she chose to have coffee instead of tea or some other equally inconsequential decision equally unworthy of such passion.
Please.
The reader does not need to be reminded at every single glance, step and arm movement that the hero has the hots for the heroine, or that something simply dreadful is about to launch its horrible self upon the unsuspecting.
Don't destroy tension by exaggerating the drama of actions that do not justify it.

32 comments:

Ric said...

Absolutely agree with the seemingly common practice of being indefinite.

it either is or it isn't.

Of course, it appears I suffer from this myself.

Dennie McDonald said...

it's a learning process - if someone writes a perfect book first time out - they or either a genius or a liar - call me cynical

it takes practice as with any craft or undertaking - I cringe when I read the first book I wrote (not the one when I was 8 but the one 5 years ago) I learning...

Dennie McDonald said...

apparenly I have a lot more learning - I AM learning sheesh - I need to re-read before I hit the post button... =)

jason evans said...

These are all great points. I think the points about the opening and artificial excitement are hugely destructive. I still have to tie a rope around my waist and pull myself back at the beginning of my stories. You simply cannot load it up with description (even though you really, really, really want to show the reader the wonderful visions in your head).

Bernita said...

Hoot!Ric!
You had to try awfully hard to come up with ian approximation.

That's why the blog post, Dennie, in the hopes someone might learn from my mistakes.

Bernita said...

Hey, hey, Jason. Just a minute here.
Smashing openings are great so they tell us.
It's the false and ersatz, the synthetic excitement, that marks the amateur.
The protagonist expressing guilt/horror/hype over something insignificant and irrelevant.

Robyn said...

The reader does not need to be reminded at every single glance, step and arm movement that the hero has the hots for the heroine

I love you. As a dedicated romance reader, I long to see a hero who is not in a constant state of schwing.

Bernita said...

The viagra vocabulary is so painful, Robyn, and the poor hero...

Sam said...

I just started reading a book and tossed it - it was just such crappy writing (a thriller)
Blech.
I started to read Clive Cussler's new book Black Wind - he might not pen the best prose in the world, but his plots anc characters just pull you in and hold you - now that's good writing, lol.

Bernita said...

Pros are forgiven things that leave wannabe/gonnabe/newbies' stuff moldering in the recycle bin.
That's probably one of the most important lessons a beginner has to learn.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Don't worry Bernita...you don't get ownership of these mistakes! We've all made them!

These last few posts are a wealth of good info for the beginning writer. You aughta' make an archive link and list them all.

I find that when I do a first draft, I just write to get it out of my head and onto the screen. Then I go over it for all the things you've been mentioning here.

A lot of people can't write that way, but it works for me...LOL..my brain doesn't get to slow me down till after the fact.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bonnie.
I write my first drafts that way too.
Eventually, I believe, if one writes, writes and continues to write, avoidance of these no-nos becomes instinctive and automatic.

Cynthia Bronco said...

Today one of my students could not let go of doubling up on transition words and conjunctions, despite the intervention that I attempted. She wanted to use "Ironically, however..." among others. Often I see the evil italics show up to emphasize a word and give it deeper meaning. Abstractions run rampant, and the word "mellifluous" appears in alarming quanities. This is the cross that I must carry through the land of college essays.

P.S. Great blog!

Erik Ivan James said...

Dear Gal,
I agree with Bonnie about the 'archive link' idea. It's good stuff.

Bernita said...

Yes, I remember, Cynthia.

Think I used that italics habit as a means to describe a character.
Italics mis-used annoy me more than any other, with arch words a close second.

Thank you. Glad you joined in.

Gabriele C. said...

#1 Holly Lisle calls them weasel words that just weasel their way into your writing somehow. :)

But words like attire or garments can work better in a historical context than clothes. And Roderic's mount is a destrier, not a horse. What will probably throw a reader is words that LOOK like taken from the dictionary and not natural part of the tone of a book.

I'm with you on the repetitive hotness. Ditto for the golden locks of the heroine that wave and curl through some books. And, dear reader, don't forget the hero has broad shoulders - I better remind you again.

kmfrontain said...

Aiee. Older work. Yes, I cringe over the beginnings of Gryphon One, but I was tired of weeding, tired of looking for ways to make it more terse and still keep the feel, and I left it as is finally. Writing is a learning process, and that one was my second major writing attempt in my life, and if it shows, well... In any case, I just let it go, because it was time to quit banging myself over my oldest stuff and keep on working on the newer.

But the references to blazing eyes... Guilty. I'm the narrowed eyes person. I can't recall how many times now I've had to weed that sort of thing out of my stuff. Certainly, I've left some, because it does make a point, now and again.

I guess I've learnt a bit about moderation since my earliest stuff.

Bernita said...

I might, Erik,thank you, if someone would tell me baby click by excruciating baby click how to do it.
No one seems to understand that I am a total techno-idiot.

Sorry, Gabriele, I should have excluded historical and period prose from my post.
~wondering where her tirewoman had gone~

Yes, dammit, they needn't be mentioned every third page.(Wonder if I do? Must check.)

Bernita said...

Hey, KM, I LIKE "blazing eyes" and "narrowed eyes" but NOT over something picayune.
If he has to react over every useless detail, the guy's a candidate for permanent high blood pressure.

For The Trees said...

Well, shit. With these last few posts you've knocked a good 250 pages off my formerly 380-page novel.

Why me, God???

Because I'm learning, I know, I know. Thanks again.

Bernita said...

Oh sure, Forrest.
Note, please, people, exaggeration for humourous effect and neat compliment. He does it very well.

Dakota Knight said...

I am working a lot on eliminating the passive voice from my work. The voice creeps in from time to time. I usually just let it flow on my first draft and then fix it on the rewrites, however, on my latest work, I'm trying hard to stay active. Great post!

S. W. Vaughn said...

Great post, Bernita -- especially your explanation of purple prose. That actually helps me out a lot! I have a tendency to melo-dramatize on occasion. :-)

Now to weed out those pesky purple words!

ScaramoucheX said...

Bernita, I think that you are quite mad...can you read 'Finnegan's Wake' and tell me that Joyce followed the rules of English grammar? I think not. He followed the rules within his own mind,his own actiavted voice. He was true to that lexicon, that usage,that numinosity...or Tropic of Cancer? or On the Road? 'Course not...the rules of grammar are for commoners who are stuck for perpetuity in the sixth grade, as far as artistic instincts go...otherwise, blog vigourously!

ScaramoucheX said...

Y'otta drink more Sambuca and smoke a l;ittle cannbis....dissolve these calcified notions of yours...dig?

Bhaswati said...

Excellent post. I ought to take a print-out and stick it on the wall next to my computer. Admittedly, I've been guilty of the first weakness you pointed out, occasionally.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Dakota and SW.

Scaramouchex,sorry to shred your opium dreams,but you might disabuse yourself of the cliched notion that you are the second coming of James Joyce or you will be stuck in perpetuity in your sophmore year.
Now, put down the bong and step away.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bhaswati.
Not that one notices. Your prose is clear and smooth.

Please note, people, Bhaswati has a delightful book coming out, called "Making Out in America." (Hope I got the title right.)

Bhaswati said...

Thank you so much for the plug, Bernita. That's so nice of you :). Thanks for the kind words on my writing too.

Bernita said...

Just stating the obvious, Bhaswati!

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