Literary Crimes

I recently read a fantasy which made me wonder what the editors were thinking, and whether they were editing at all, or just tossing paper airplanes. I’m not going to give you the title of the book or the author’s name, because I don’t wish to hurt this person.

How could they have let pass so remarkable a phrase as “these dastardly henchmen of the wicked Lord Boombatz”? Were they reading the manuscript in their sleep? Or did someone threaten to injure them if they didn’t publish this book?

When you write fiction, don’t tell the reader what kind of person a particular character is. Let the character’s actions and words show the reader what his nature is. This is a law of the art.

I am unsure whether to call adjectivitis a crime or an affliction. It is certainly an affliction to the reader. Think of the book you are writing as a bowl of clam chowder, to be served to the reader, whom you are also asking to pay for the privilege of eating it. Do you really think the chowder would taste better with a couple of handfuls of black pepper, red pepper, salt, garlic powder, and Mrs. Dash?

Do not steal easily identifiable themes from long-established, very popular literary classics. The existence of this law never stops any ninny from filling his book with know-it-all Elves, roly-poly Hobbits, and other items shoplifted from the Tolkien store. Nor is it at all creative for you to write about  children tumbling into a fantasy world through some unexpected portal in a big old house. This is like stealing a BMW with vanity plates and joyriding all over town until the cops catch you, which won’t take long at all.

Do not see-saw back and forth between one style and another–especially in dialogue. When a character on Page 46 says, “I tell ‘ee, Marster Jeb, us’ll go a far wee tiddle,” he must not reappear on Page 47 and say, “Fie, my lord! Thou dreamest.” This is to afflict the reader.

If you’re interested in writing, and have tried over and over again to get some of your work published, and always get rejected, you’re probably wondering, intensely, “How come a book full of literary crimes gets published? I could write something better than that with half my brain cut out!”

Well, I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. Maybe the editors and publisher were threatened. Or bribed. Or seriously ill, and didn’t know what they were doing. Maybe they owed money or favors to the author’s in-laws, one of whom just happens to be a major mafioso.

So, sure, if you want to write a book that’s just one literary crime after another, go right ahead, no one’s stopping you. You might even get it published–and if not, you can always publish independently. Your book might even become wildly popular and make you tons of money, like Fifty Shades of Grey.

But it’ll still suck.

A final encouraging word: All of these literary trespasses are easily avoidable by just about anyone.

4 comments on “Literary Crimes

  1. Good post, Lee and good advice. Thanks for sharing. One hitch I ran into is my own work being used to insult me. I had applied for a possible position to submit blogs on technical thinkings and rantings – and submitted for the staff to review a story I had recently posted to one of my blogs. As most writers tell me, and as I know as a programmer – it’s hard to not improve on a thing when you look it over… so I made a few changes that I thought would help it read better before I submitted it for review. I told them I had 6 other blogs and many websites – and listed a dozen or so for them to review.
    They responded by basically accusing me of plagiarism and would not bother to verify that the story they found online which resembled my submission was my own story. I assumed they were so automated that no human actually considered the submission or my reply about the suspected plagiarism.
    The whole incident just left me thinking why bother.. and then I wanted to start an article about how automated content systems are watering down true content and human interaction in the 21st century…. sheesh.. I do begin to understand some of your comments and opinions more and more as time goes by. Please keep up the good work – even if we don’t always comment – we appreciate your efforts and look forward to them.

    1. Well, there’s a literary crime I never thought of–plagiarizing your own work!
      Boy, do we ever rely too much on computers. “Automated content–guaranteed to be totally free of any thought.” Ugh.

  2. I find Programmer1971’s comment quite interesting. A lot of what happens in business these days happens because of automation. As a society and as an economy, we’ve rushed into these things too fast.

Leave a Reply