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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Short List of Don'ts

I've been away for a while ... obviously. Where have I been? Touring the Antarctic? Toiling away trying to find the next perfect number? Trying to make a sweater out of my own hair?

No. None of these. I've been working, hanging out with my partner, playing softball and doing a personality overhaul on my MC.

And I've been reading. I'm always reading. Any spare minute I have -- at lunch, on the train, on the elliptical -- I read. I read because I enjoy it, but I also consider it my writer homework. I read authors I respect, established authors, but I also read new authors. First novels, newbies to the field of YA and fantasy/sci-fi. I read to see what is being written, what is being published, what is being read.

And while I've found enjoyment in many of these novels, I've also come across some Don'ts. I was inspired to write these down for you after I had to put down a novel on page 7 because I was so beyond exasperated. It was such a sad experience as a reader, I realized that it was my heroic* duty** to share these Don'ts with you.

A Short List of Don'ts

  1. DON'T use dialogue as an excuse for exposition. Really, it's annoying. Imagine you live in a world where magic exists, but only a 7th child has the ability. Don't reveal this on page 2 by having Mary-Jo turn to Bucky-Bob and say, "We are so lucky to be 7th children, which means that we have magic and other people who are not 7th children do not since only 7th children have magic." Not only is this a horrible sentence -- it's also silly. Bucky-Bob lives in the world, too. Why would Mary-Jo feel the need to explain this to him in casual conversation?
  2. DON'T make your super special character go on about wishing they weren't special. Being special is every little kid's dream. Deep down, we all harbor some secret wish to be better at something than everyone else. So when Mary-Jo is the most awesome-est gymnast ever, don't make her prattle on about wishing she could just be like everyone else and not know how to do a quadruple tuck backflip into a roundhouse handspring ...or something. She was receive approximately zero empathy or sympathy from your reader.
  3. Speaking of which, DON'T have your character whine about being privileged. And while we're at it, don't you do this either. I've come across this a few times, usually monarchy wishing they could live like the peasants***, but the most egregious example was in the book I just put down. The MC, Guilty Gertrude, tells us there are two classes of people: the Gonna Dies, who are lucky to have food once a week, and the Silver Platters, who live in luxury. Guilty Gertrude then goes on about how she wishes she wasn't a Silver Platter. Oh really, Guilty Gertrude? Because you've just said the other option is to be one of the Gonna Dies, and I really don't think that's the better option. White guilt, or any permeation of it, isn't a good look.
  4. DON'T make your character tough. It's played out. I'm not saying that there can never be another good stoic character. But maybe it's time to consider some other personalities? There are a lot of options out there.
  5. DON'T make your character hotheaded. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule. If this is how your characters handles things, then go for it. But understand that this is also played out. You need to bring something else to the table the a redheaded girl who's badass with a bow and has a bad temper.
  6. DON'T be too serious. Not all novels are comedies, but all novels can use comedy. Your MC or somebody around your MC should be making jokes occasionally. Because that's what people do. If somebody was walking around taking everything in the world super-serial all the time ... well, people would probably laugh at them for taking everything so seriously.

*Because noticing flaws in others is the definition of heroism ... oh wait ...
**Hehe, duty.
***Really? You want to live in the street that people are emptying buckets of excrement on from their windows? Because that's what's happening in your medieval-y world.

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