Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hot Writing Tips From Penelope

I have been getting a ton of review requests lately....some good, some bad, some crazy, some totally out of left field. There are a lot of writers who are newbs doing the self-pubbing thing. Good for them. Some of them can write....even better. Some of them have potential, but need to learn a lot about the craft of writing. It's not that can pick it up at a workshop, class, conference, on-line, with a critique partner, with a critique group. But you gotta learn it. If I start reading a manuscript, and there are grammatical errors and/or typos in THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE, it's bad. Way bad. Here are the most glaring problems I have seen recently....

1. Tighten It Up, Baby.

Writing that is sloppy is boring. It's tedious to wade through a bunch of superfluous stuff. It throws off the pacing of the story. Here's an example.....

Tommy decided to take his new puppy for a walk around the neighborhood. He scratched the little dog behind his ears and tickled his tummy. The pup stretched and yawned and showed him his tiny pink tongue, hanging out of the side of his mouth. The dog bounced up and shook himself off vigorously, obviously ready to play. Tommy attached a green and red plaid leash on the collar, then tugged the dog toward the sidewalk. The tiny pup got sidetracked by a worm and began to dig in the dirt. Tommy dragged him along the grass.

What is the critical information in this paragraph? What does the reader need to know in order to move the story forward? Does it give us any clue about Tommy? Is the dog's personality important for the story? Can this paragraph be replaced by this sentence.....?

Tommy walked his dog.

I found a couple of stories lately that had pages of narrative that could be replaced by several sentences.

2. Omit The Stage Direction

Karen walked along the path to the old farmhouse. She took a right-hand turn at the mailbox, then continued on the brick sidewalk to the porch. She stomped up the porch steps, then went into the front door. At the back of the kitchen, she entered the parlor and sat down on the end of the sofa.

How about this instead?

Karen went home.

The reader doesn't need to know every step of her journey. Just get her to the destination. Too much stage direction slows down the narrative and bores the crap out of the reader.

3. Bag The Inane Details

My biggest pet peeve is when writers detail every single meal the characters eat throughout the course of the day. (I find this happens quite often with contemporary romance). Unless the story is about a caterer or a master pastry chef or something, we don't need to hear about every freakin' meal.

Sandy sat down at the table and fixed herself a ham and cheese sandwich. She made sure she used spicy mustard and a dill pickle, too. She got a diet Coke out of the refrigerator and then a napkin from the cupboard....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..............

Oh! I'm here. Just taking a little nap. Who the hell cares about a ham sandwich? Not me! This information is not critical to the story. Unless the hero is a pig farmer. Or a were-pig. Or something like that.

Other things that are sloppy...dangling participles, run-on sentences, dialogue/internal POV formatting problems, misspelled words, lack of agreement w/ subject/verb/pronouns.

I highly recommend newbs joining a critique group, even if it's on-line. Getting older, more experienced writers to help you tighten up your writing BEFORE you publish is an excellent idea.

And now, Penelope is off to walk the dog and get a delicious ham sandwich.....with mustard......