Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How to Write a Bad Book

Caption of photo from 2014: "Evidently Florida alligators have taken up sign-making."

Python Update:

Heard on the local TV news this week (hopefully I got the facts straight): The State of Florida has come up with enough money to hire a "Python Posse": 50 hunters who will be paid minimum wage plus $50 per python & $25 for other snakes. It will be interesting to see if this approach is an improvement on the free-for-all python hunt in the Everglades, which hasn't put much of a dent into the reptile population so far.


In my final post on writing a Series, I mentioned a book I was trying to get through just so I could make notes on all the things that were wrong with it. In the end, unable to torture myself any longer, I archived the book well short of the end. The incident did, however, inspire me to come up with a list of what made that book, and a few others I've run into, so torturous to plow through. 

The Three Basic Essentials of Writing a Bad Book:

CHARACTERS. Don't tell readers who your characters are - just start talking about them - they'll catch on. Don't tell us your characters' last names or what they do, where they live. Don't show us how they think. Just chatter on, assuming we know all the things you know about them, even if you've left most of it in your head instead of putting it down on the page.

PLOT.  Plots are so bothersome - they require thought. Why bother? Just toss in any old mish-mash of ideas. And if one plot is good, three or four is even better, right? But don't bother to explain which is which, or how or why you jumped from one to another. I mean, readers like to be confused - after all, that shows you're smarter than they are. Clarity, shmerity, who needs it?

WRITING. What's hard about writing? You just sit down and do it. One sentence after another - noun, verb; noun, verb, etc. Don't forget to make every sentence declarative. No opening clauses with -ing words, right? Or, heaven forbid, a preposition. Every sentence "complete," just the way your English teacher taught in school. No fragments. No exclamations. No italics. No variety. "Tell" everything from the author's Point of View, just like a storyteller in the tales of old. 

Grace note: Okay, you get the idea. but since I have the horrible feeling some people might miss the irony above and not notice I'm talking about writing a BAD book, I'm going to switch to a more positive mode for the list below.

The following list is not in order of importance. (They're all important.) I'm sure I've left many vital things out. So feel free to comment with any writing faux pas you'd care to add.

1.  Lack of Identification. Every time a character is introduced, not just in the opening chapter, you need to tell readers who this person is. It might be as simple as saying "Jason, Earl of Warchester," instead of a simple "Jason," or "Kitty, Lady Mary's maid," instead of "Kitty." Don't leave important facts in your head. Give readers all they need to know to appreciate the characters you've created.

2.  Lack of Dialogue.  Back in the 19th c. authors like Dickens could get away with page after page of narration. In the 21st c., no way, no how! Readers will not plow through it. Yes, narration is important, but it needs to be enlivened with meaningful, credible, interesting dialogue. (NOT a wandering kaffeeklatch of words, cute but going nowhere, accomplishing nothing.)

3.  Lack of Narration. Not as common as lack of good dialogue, but I've read books where the dialogue went on and on, and readers never had an opportunity to know the identities of the people speaking, no idea of what thoughts were going through their minds. No idea of where they were or how they got there. No idea of what they're doing while they're talking. Well-written narration - identification, thoughts, actions, setting, etc. - is vital to a good book. And good balance between dialogue and narration is essential to every book.

4.  Introspection - too much or too little. Looking inside the heads of your main characters is a top priority. Readers don't want to be told what these people are thinking. They want you to get right inside their heads - let us see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. But we don't want you to spend page after page in there, writing an entire book of introspection; for example, waxing eloquent on the heroine's thoughts and emotions for page after page with no dialogue, no action, no story. Let your main characters reveal their thoughts, but not ad nauseum. Keep the story moving.

5.  Repetition. Yes, there's a certain leeway when it comes to repetition. We all know how easy it is to miss key points. But if you must repeat something, try to say it in a different way. Also, watch your paragraphs for repetition of words. Just this week I was editing a book where one word appeared three times in the same paragraph. Don't do it!

6.  Lack of Credibility. If you absolutely must have a plot situation that stretches credulity, then you have to work hard at justifying it. And if you can't, change the situation to something your readers can believe. I absolutely gaped at a certain plot development in that book I couldn't finish. Yes, the author acknowledged it was unusual but did nothing to make this outrageous situation believable. It could have been done, but she simply threw it out there and went on with the story. Sorry, maybe some readers will swallow that, but if you want a build a career, get people to buy your next book . . . 

7.  Lack of Action. Readers enjoy lively dialogue, descriptive narration (as long as it isn't overdone), but after a while they also expect Action. They want the characters to actually do something. It can be a simple as attending a dance or as complex and dangerous as a car chase or a shoot-out, but action is required. Plots tend to flounder without action. (And yes, I'm aware I used "action" four time in one paragraph!)

8.  Wandering Off-topic. Hopefully you have created interesting characters and placed them in a well-thought-out plot, but there's always that temptation to wander off-topic, to write a scene you think is so funny or cute or whatever . . . but has absolutely nothing to do with moving your story forward. Think twice! If the scene reveals more of your heroine's character, if it provides a clue to the plot, etc., well then, fine. Keep it. If not, it needs to go, no matter how clever you thought it was.

9. Secondary Characters Steal the Show. This goes hand in hand with "Wandering Off-topic." Do not let your secondary characters grab the bit and run with it! Secondary characters are wonderful - they add all kinds of color to a book, but they cannot be allowed to overwhelm one or more of the main characters - even if you are planning to let one of them have his/her own book. Save all those details for their book; don't let them draw attention away from the hero, heroine, or plot of your present book.

10.  Ignore the Facts. Whether you are writing Contemporary or Historical, please don't be one of those authors who never lets facts get in the way of his/her fiction. Yes, there are some readers who don't care, but most do. Unless you're writing Alternative History, you need to get your facts straight - from actual historical events to the laws of whatever land your story takes place in. In 1810, did clothes have zippers? Did shirts have buttons? Did a young man walk up to a girl he didn't know and just say, "Hi"? Oh, and by the way, did you know a duchess is not a "lady"? And did you know marriages in Medieval times were conducted on the church steps as marriage was a bit too racy a concept for inside?? Whatever you're writing, get your facts straight!

11.  Foolish, die-away Heroines. Barbara Cartland wrote a great many Regency-set novels, bless her heart. All with foolish little twits who get saved by the big strong hero, yay hurray. She even called Peruvian llama "sheep." And her books worked for their time, though having been to Peru twice, the "sheep" bit turned me off her books forever after. But to offer a cliché, that was then, this is now. Heroines are expected to be reasonably intelligent, competent, sometimes heroic. Yes, they can mess up, just as we all do. But they're allowed to be brave, even to the point of rescuing the hero. (Think Stephanie Plum in the long-running Janet Evanovich series or the even stronger heroines who are police officers, soldiers, etc.) 

12.  Do not edit your book. I'm done, I got it right the first time. No need to look it over - I'm a genius. I don't make mistakes. My book is perfect just the way it is. Okay, KDP, here I come! This, of course, is the kind of thinking that results in those apologetic second-time-around books "completely re-edited," etc. that appear from time to time on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing pages. Sigh. And then there are all the books where the author remains ignorant or I-don't-care about all the egregious errors in his/her book. And we, the unsuspecting reader, buy that book and suffer through it. Or more likely, "archive" it part-way through. I've been preaching on this topic since 2011, so all I'll say here is:  EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK!

~ * ~

Sorcerer's Bride is on sale 'til the end of the month - 99¢
For Amazon link, click here. 

Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here. 

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.


1 comment:

  1. Lack of credibility/Ignore the facts: two of my biggest complaints. I've been a science fiction/fantasy aficionado much of my reading life, so I have no problem with unbelievable situations. But don't overdo it! If you set your story in an alien society, make sure your characters act consistently within that society. Better yet, give them enough human characteristics that we can get into their lives and thoughts and feelings.

    There was (is?) a Canadian TV crime show set at the end of the 19th century, Murdoch Mysteries. The unbelievable premise is that the detective invents and uses many modern police techniques, such as fingerprinting, to solve the crimes. That's a great premise, and at first I found the show delightful.

    But one unbelievable premise is enough. I can suspend my disbelief for a 19th century detective with late 20th century knowledge. What I can't swallow, nor stomach, is 19th century characters with 21st century attitudes, ethics, and expressions. I'm absolutely certain people in the 1800's did not parrot, "I'm sorry for your loss" every time someone died. Nor would they have consistently 21st century American attitudes toward divorce and remarriage (especially since the relevant character is Catholic!), abortion, and homosexuality. When I realized the show was not about a detective ahead of his time scientifically, but about a set of standardized Hollywood characters plopped down in an earlier time by some sort of undisclosed time-travel magic, I stopped watching the show.

    Make your fantasy believable!

    P.S. Thanks for spelling the word, "dialogue." :)