Amateur

Let me stress I mean no insult when I use the term amateur. Every new writer is a nonprofessional. Some have an advantage of a journalistic or similar writing background but they, like everyone, learned their craft. Stories follow certain patterns and by studying these layouts one learns how to produce effective narratives; even if wishing to alter these standards to create something new, it is a good idea to recognise plot. Understand the ‘rules’ to break them.

I’m not going to catalog all the errors editors pick out in many draft manuscripts, but I will list one of which almost every wannabe is responsible. Even the successful author can be guilty although often the story-teller will catch this error in self-edits. If the writer doesn’t, a good editor will.

Many new writers begin their stories with long-winded paragraphs of exposition and description. Trained authors do this, but with good purpose. In those instances, the writers in question set the first chapter aside to use for their own information, extrapolating the necessary particulars into the narrative of the book, breaking up the details and ‘peppering’ the facts between the pages.

I once read an excellent piece of advice: Write your story and begin at the second chapter. Many writers, but particular ‘new’, will describe their characters from their height, hair, eye, and skin colour, to the checked pattern on their garments. This over description doesn’t end at the character but extends to the environment. These details may be important, but are best passed on as an ‘impression’. Study a book bearing this in mind. Examine how the author presents the main character. Is he or she described as being six feet tall, with brown eyes, and long brown hair swept over his or her shoulders? Of does the author describe this person through someone else’s impression of them? EG:

“His eyes were the same deep brown as the colour of his hair. Such eyes should have made her feel welcome. The way his full lips twitched suggested his gaze would be twinkling with amusement. Alas, when she risked straining her neck to look up to his face, his expression appeared taut, his lips tight, his gaze narrow.”

Fine, not the greatest paragraph. I haven’t put much effort into it, but the piece is more entertaining than a list of characteristics. As an alternative to saying he’s tall, she’s having to gaze up to such a degree she may strain her neck. The section indicates brown eyes and hair, but instead of stating the man is unhappy, the reader notes his expression may be hostile, is at least far from welcoming. Is he displeased about something, or with her? Right away, questions will likely keep people reading to discover the answers.

Likewise, it is never a good idea to include an information dump whether at the beginning or later in the book. On rare occasions, this is necessary. A rather tedious chapter exists in James Herbert’s The Fog. However, the data is necessary and is presented to the reader as a meeting. Do not begin by introducing a character, describing the room he or she occupies, and listing the background of how, when, where, and why the person came to be there, who their relatives are and what they are all thinking of having for lunch. Too much explanation slows narrative, can be boring, and also requires the reader to take in a great deal of information too fast. An editor will grow weary even faster. The manuscript will go straight to the slush pile.

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