How Not to Write

I was going to review this book; but because I don’t want to hurt the writer’s feelings, I will call it The Incredibly Awesome Adventures of Three Cool Teens, by X.

If only I had had this book while I was teaching Creative Writing at our local adult school! It would have made a perfect textbook for displaying everything a writer could possibly do wrong. If you want to write something worth reading, just avoid doing everything that X does.

1. Don’t use the same few adjectives over and over and over again. For instance, when the word “incredible” is used at least once in every other paragraph, it gets downright annoying. Ditto “magnificent” and “awesome.”

2. Don’t give the reader the same information over and over and over again. You wouldn’t believe how many times X describes his characters’ daily exercise routine, the gargantuan breakfasts they consume, and how lean and powerful and handsome they are. It made me want to see them all get shot.

3. Don’t rely on positively loopy coincidences. For instance, the heroes sneak around until they can overhear the two bad guys talking; and in that conversation, the bad guys–who have already carried out their nefarious scheme–recite to each other every single thing they’ve done and how they did it. Uh, don’t they already know that???

4. Don’t assume the reader is totally devoid of imagination, and burden him with useless information. We don’t need to know a character’s exact height and weight. And please! Don’t describe a character as “lovely,” “genial,” “wise,” etc. Instead, be guided by the arcane and abstruse principle, “What you say and do reveals your personality.” Always presuming the character has a personality.

5. If you have endowed a character with a distinctive little quirk or turn of phrase, don’t repeat it over and over and over again. Like, if a guy has a habit of saying, “Bless my topknot,” don’t allow him to say it every time he speaks. This gets to be infuriating.

6. Don’t set up your heroes to be heroes by pitting them against villains who would be hard put to dress themselves in the morning. Once the reader perceives that your villains are totally incompetent and ineffectual, all suspense evaporates. Where’s the fun in outwitting bad guys who couldn’t beat a six-year-old in a game of tic-tac-toe? Who’s going to worry about the bad guys swearing to murder the good guys, when they couldn’t spray Raid on an ant-hill without getting it in their eyes?

This by no means exhausts the list of literary crimes perpetrated by X. But it has exhausted me.

3 comments on “How Not to Write

  1. Also…

    Don’t describe the characters by having them look in a mirror and think about what they see there. Have they never seen themselves in a mirror before? Are they so surprised by what they see that they have to muse on it in detail? (And don’t keep reminding the reader about what color their hair is unless a strand of hair is going to be an important clue.)

    Don’t start every sentence (or every paragraph) with the same kind of phrasing. (One “scholarly” writer I can’t bear to read any more starts every other sentence with a subordinate clause. After a while, it becomes like the Chinese water torture.)

    I love this post! Let’s have some more “don’t” examples!

    1. I thought only the wicked queen in Snow White did that thing with the mirror…

      (I think I do have some more posts along these lines. Let me check the archives.)

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