Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Top Ten Pet Peeves We Hate to See

Top Ten Peeves We Hate to See
By editors Laura Kelly and Vicky Reed

1. The story is filled with happy coincidences that magically solve problems for the hero and heroine.

A good example of this is the romantic suspense where the hero and heroine are trapped. The hero dropped his gun into the elevator shaft to save the heroine from tumbling to her doom, the building is on fire, and a killer is on the loose. It looks like the end for our dauntless duo—but suddenly, a SWAT team arrives.

Anton Chehkov, the great Russian playwright, once said that if you have a gun above the mantelpiece in Act One, you’d better shoot it before the curtain falls. In other words, if you lock your hero in a building with a crazed killer, and set the basement on fire, tell your reader who the hero is, what he does, and why SWAT is keeping track of him—before they break in.

Write down the major plot points. Does everything flow logically from point A to point B? If not, then re-think your story line.

2. Writers who manipulate the plot to suit their ideas of what a nice scene would be, and it doesn’t logically follow the plot.

Usually this involves some clich├ęd love scene. Maybe after being rescued your hero and heroine are caught in a torrential downpour and find shelter in a ramshackle tenement. It’s cold, they’re both soaked, wind is whistling through the bug-sized cracks but--despite the blue tinge to their anatomy--they stop to have sex.

Like like that Seinfield episode where George yells, “I have shrinkage,” events have to contain logic. Unless you’ve laid the groundwork to establish your hero is a superhuman sex machine, sub-zero temperatures are the opposite of a turn on. So are sand, insects, reptiles, or rodents in the vicinity, and scenes where they haven’t bathed in days, but the minute they are alone and supposedly ‘safe,’ they have sex.

3. Characters not acting in character.

In Linda Seger’s book, Creating Unforgettable Characters, she explains that every character is the result of how they grew up, their background and their core personalities. We are the sum of our parts. A person’s qualities in turn imply other qualities. A former policeman can be expected to know something about guns and the law. A heroine presented as a savvy businesswoman can’t go around making one bad decision after another. Every action is filtered through experience and background. Once you create a person, you must remain true to who and what you have created.

4. Characters who stomp, stalk, clench fists and glare at each other, exhibit no self-control and are victims of their emotions, including passion.

A character who stomps around with her fists clenched, glaring at the hero until the touch of his hand makes her hot for him is two-dimensional. A well-drawn heroine has emotions that are true to her background and core personality. Nobody has only one or two emotional reactions, and as we grow, we learn to exert control over our actions. It’s all a part of growing up.

5. Writers who think bickering equals conflict.

Every word should push your story forward. Bickering is verbal quicksand. Once the snappy comebacks stop, is there anything preventing your hero and heroine from falling into each other’s arms except word count? Tell me why your hero and heroine can’t be joined, and then—put that gun on the mantelpiece.

6. Writers who think every line of dialogue must be answered, and every inner thought conveyed to the reader, in case they ‘don’t understand’what you are trying to say.

If a reader doesn’t understand why your character says or does something, it’s because you haven’t fleshed out that character well enough. Telling the reader why Indiana Jones hates snakes isn’t enough. You need to show it. Through dialogue and action.

Dialogue is action, by the way, and only dialogue that moves the story forward needs to be included. Excessive dialogue slows the story down, and only bores the reader.

What really bogs down a story is when every time the hero or heroine speaks, we get a mental assessment of what they said by the other party, before the other party speaks.

Don’t have them think their responses and feelings, have them act upon them, preferably with a conflict-enhancing line of dialogue. (Not bickering, as stated above).

7. Don’t tell us what the characters are about to do, then show them doing it.

Susie had a plan, first she’d sneak out the back door, then go to the store and buy a wig and some make-up, and then she’d sneak back to Joe’s place and find the missing key, but she’d make sure Dave saw her, so he would follow her, and then Joe would know what Dave was up to and could arrest him. And on the way, she’d call the SWAT team, just in case there was trouble.

Just show her sneaking out the back door, shopping at the store, making her phone call to the SWAT team and then showing up at Joe’s apartment. Make us wonder what’s going to happen, next.

Another thing we see a lot of is writers who think laying out their character’s plan in this way, ahead of time, then having that plan go awry when the character tries to put it into action, equals conflict. As in “Oh, no, Susie was going to go to the store and buy the wig, but they didn’t have any for sale. She’d have to go with plan B.”

If plan A never happens, that’s even more pointless than telling us Plan A, then showing us plan A. It just frustrates the reader.

8. Writers who don’t know how to end the scene with a hook.

A good hook can be a snappy line of dialogue that leaves the reader wondering what will happen next, and pulls them into the next scene, or chapter. A lot of writers seem to have trouble getting their characters out of the room, or scene. Or ending the day. Never end the scene with your character going to bed alone. It might give the reader the idea to put the book down and do the same.

9. Point of view violations.

When you are in a character’s point of view, you can only see, hear, taste, smell and feel what that character sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels. And you can only describe what they are experiencing using vocabulary your character would use. What self-respecting alpha male describes anything as “horrid?”

Beware of using your own extensive writer’s vocabulary instead of limiting dialogue and internal narrative to words your characters would use. What construction worker hero would describe the heroine’s hair as ‘golden tresses?’ Her golden tresses flowed over his arm as… This is you, the author speaking, and using omniscient POV, to boot, which only distances your reader from the story. If your hero wouldn’t notice the color of the wallpaper or delicate brocade of the furniture, then let that be described in the heroine’s POV.

10. Overuse of qualifiers.

Make every word count. Do a word search and take out every even, just, actually, really, usually, generally, especially, that doesn’t have to be there. He just wanted to see her one more time. She didn’t really even know his name. That wasn’t exactly what she’d meant to say. She wasn’t generally a fast talker. He wasn’t especially fond of turtles.

Last, but not least, put your manuscript on a low-that diet, and take out any ‘that’ that does not add to the story. Otherwise, you’re just padding your word count.

For more information on editors Laura Kelly and Vicky Reed, please go to www.editorlaurakelly.com


Mary Marvella said...

Very interesting. Several peeves made me smile.

Alexis Walker said...

What a great post! All things we know but need reminders of. I'll use this checklist when I revise to make sure I keep on the straight and narrow :-)

Thank you for sharing.

Loretta said...

Some excellent points were made in this post. All very worthwhile tips that we writers use keep in mind. Thanks for sharing.

Linda LaRoque said...

Loved this post. I was so glad to see the comment about bickering and fisted hands, etc. I hate both.

Thanks for the excellent information. I'll print out a copy for future reference.


CJ Parker said...

I copy and pasted this into a document so I could print it out. Great info to have from people we respect.

Anonymous said...

Very good & worthwhile. however:
#9. POV is worth quite a bit of blogging all on its own, no? There are those that dont know all the POVs avail - those that can't stick to the one they've picked...
so- in all your fun free time, dear editors, do address a bit more attentin to #9, please!
Nancy in NH
www.amomentincrime.com THANKYOU!!!!

Nightingale said...

Informative. I cringed on a couple and wanted to snatch back a recent submission!

Kathy Otten said...

Wonderful post. I appreciated the reminders as I do most of the things you pointed out, at least in the first draft. Then I just usually fall into a rut and do something the wrong way so many times that it no longer looks wrong, especially these 'ly' words.

Sheryl said...

This is definitely worth putting in the Writers' Bible: "Point of view violations.

When you are in a character’s point of view, you can only see, hear, taste, smell and feel what that character sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels."

What a valuable bit of info. Ta! Extremely helpful post.

Lurrrve the that-free diet!