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Oct. 2nd, 2007 11:15 am (UTC)
Regarding the Christmas thing, I think that's the biggest plunder I ever read, when they celebrated Christmas in one Dragonlance story...
Oct. 2nd, 2007 11:47 am (UTC)
The problem with lists like this
... is that they tend to have a freezing effect on those of us who aren't exactly running at the mouth with flabby prose, and who suspect that they might have an original story or two bubbling around inside. I don't recall wanting to hurl "Nine Princes in Amber" against the wall because it began with the protagonist waking up.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 12:41 pm (UTC)
Re: The problem with lists like this
Then screw your courage to the sticking point and have enough faith in yourself to ignore the words of someone who writes about extraterrestrial vampires. Ties always go to baserunners and authors.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 11:50 am (UTC)
This this was a good read, but I gotta chime in with a few little bits of my opinion on this, if you don't mind. :) First and foremost though, I will state my distaste for overused writing cliches, and I agree with a lot of what you stated simply because they are cliches. However, I think there's a difference between cliches and something necessary to a story despite that it's been overused; I mean, too many stories use "plots" and have an overabundance of "character development," but it certainly doesn't make it a bad story.

HEAD-HOPPING: I've learned that consistency matters, including a consistent inconsistency. I don't think there's anything wrong with "head-hopping" so long as you stick with it just as well as anything else. Rashoman is one example I can pull off the top of my head of where we're seeing lots of different people's views.

THE JOKER: I'd change it to encompass ANY single expression that is used almost exclusively with little other variety. Case in point, there is a webcomic called "CTRL-ALT-DEL" where every single character looks like they're stoned all the time (droopy eyes, half opened mouth). BORING.

NON-COMEDY OF MANNERS: Nothing should be overused, including the aforementioned greetings/goodbyes. However, I wouldn't NOT use them just because they are what they are. Sometimes I like throwing in the odd "what's up, Doc?" interchange just so a character doesn't just pop up out of nowhere (especially given your "Beaming In" pointer).

Likewise, I like seeing the "parking the car" scenes, as I feel they help pace things out a bit. Who was it that said "Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once."? An over abundance of said scenes would be redundant, but those scenes are what makes, say, a Die Hard movie 2 hours long versus 26 minutes of pure explosions.

WAKING-UP SCENES: You're not gonna tell me Groundhog's Day was a worse movie because Bill Murray kept waking up every five minutes, are you? :)

GO TO SLEEP, SHEEPLE!: I agree, I hate being hit over the head by blunt/blatant political beliefs. "He's a Republican and therefore is evil" is boring and one-dimensional.

BEAMING IN: I think some exceptions can be made if you're in a very obvious location. If a fight breaks out in a meat locker, I don't think it's a stretch to say that one of them clubbed other's head with a leg of lamb, even if it isn't explicitly introduced beforehand.

DON'T OPEN THE AIRLOCK!: That is unless the writer deliberately chooses to make it vague so that the story is a bit more universal. I suspect that some stories can be told and understood without really having to state a time and a date; the lesson "don't spit in a man's face unless his beard is on fire" matters little if the story was about Abraham Lincoln or Brian Posehn.

IT'S NOT AN ESSAY: I'd also like to throw "narration" in with it too, particularly with comics and movies. When you're writing for a visual story, discussing in words what can be shown in pictures is, in my opinion, bad writing.

Other than this, good list. :)
Oct. 2nd, 2007 12:50 pm (UTC)
Rashoman is one example I can pull off the top of my head of where we're seeing lots of different people's views.

When I'm in a workshop or judging a contest, I'm afraid the material I see reads a little more Coleman Francis or Ed Wood than Akira Kurosawa. Masters can get away such things because they're masters.

But thanks for replying in such detail. Good points!

And for the record, one of my favorite movies is Tora! Tora! Tora! which has something like twenty different main characters, from admirals to diplomats to squadron leaders on both sides, yet remains completely intelligible. But not many have the skills to do something like that.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Oct. 2nd, 2007 02:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stelfton15 - Oct. 2nd, 2007 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - eeknight - Oct. 2nd, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 2nd, 2007 12:52 pm (UTC)
As a long-time sufferer of Logorrhea, I like to thank you for bringing attention to this awful disease. :)

P.S. I'd add coffee shops to number 15.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 01:11 pm (UTC)
Thank You!
I'm a very big fan of the sci-fi / fantasy genre and have been since I can remember, and I have to say thank you for putting this post out there. I hope every writer reads it, not just the budding amateurs. I was thinking about various authors I liked and disliked and whether they are guilty of any of the above sins. First one that came to my mind was Frank Herbert and Dune (yes, I am a lame fanboy). He used third-person omniscient that flirted with first person POV, but I think he did it right. Everytime the POV shifted, you really got a sense of what the character was experiencing, what was in their head (through judicious use of italics). That and he didn't drown you with boring, unnecessary details. Another good example is comparing Tolkien with Robert Jordan (RIP, I did love his stories, and I own them all, I just get tired of the fluff sometimes). Tolkien always got straight to the point, straight to the action. Jordan could write a hell of a scene, his problem was the filler used in between the good scenes.

I think that comparison could be justification for a #21: The Juggling Act. Where the author finds his/her self lost in the plethora of characters and places they have created. Too many characters, too many places, not enough movement. And thus, you end up with a 15 book series that could have been finished in 3. Of course, I'm not sure when the guilt lies with the editor/publishers and when it lies with the author. It's a business, and sometimes money becomes more important than a good story.

But I digress... Great post!
Oct. 2nd, 2007 01:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank You!
Tolkien handled POV very well. In The Hobbit he did bounce between 3rd omni and Bilbo, but then that novel's voice is sized more for children and I think that works in that situation.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 01:16 pm (UTC)
this was interesting, thank you, i agree with most of your points.

this is a little bit of a coincidence, i was thinking about the exact same thing the other day. i'm falling out with the technique of having a protagonsist, a hero, a main character. i'm actually intending to write something in first person that deals with different characters from chapter to chapter, not one of them is going to be any more important than the other, obviously james joyce was the master of a technique that was a little more subtle, but that won't stop me.

the technique that i'm trying to rid myself of mostly is "stock characters", its probably one of the main failings i find in books, each character is always set up to have a certain attitude, he's funny, she's weird, he's quiet, you know. each character should have a relationship with the other characters and develop charateristics they have depending on who they are relating to, and characteristics that the character is not aware of that other people perceive, and charataristics that they have in isolation. this seems plainly obvious to me, though i'm probably over thinking it.

the author's "resposibility" is to have an idea of a character that is not set but ambiguos and able to evolve, so the reader eventually has a relationship with the character that is not dictated to him/her.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 01:28 pm (UTC)
Re: head-hopping
A stock character isn't a problem provided his or her actions aren't also cliches. I don't get tired of reading about John Wayne or Janeane Garofalo style characters, as long as they're not doing and saying what John Wayne or Janeane Garofalo already did in one of their movies.
Re: head-hopping - hownottowrite - Oct. 2nd, 2007 01:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: head-hopping - eeknight - Oct. 2nd, 2007 01:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: head-hopping - hownottowrite - Oct. 3rd, 2007 12:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 2nd, 2007 01:52 pm (UTC)
when to use head hopping
I have always been an opponent of head-hopping. But it can work adequately if you hop heads in a separate chapter. (i.e., Chapter 2 is from Sue's point of view, Chapter 3 is from Mary's). It can create a nice contrapuntal effect if done well. Overall, I view head-hopping as a cinematic technique, which arises from multiple points of view in film (even though there is no internal narrative voice in film).

As an erotica writer, I notice other traps. In erotica, there are other traps to fall into. Stories that give somebody's age or hair color or body shape in the first paragraph or two are given are almost uniformly bad.

Hapax Legomenon, 99 erotic notions

Oct. 3rd, 2007 01:03 am (UTC)
Re: when to use head hopping
Erotica definitely poses its unique challenges, and has its own unique bloopers. Like, the word "turgid" is apparently a no-no.

I'd be very interested in hearing what traps you've discovered there.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 01:56 pm (UTC)
21. Being unable to spell those pesky foreign words. "Vinaigrette" might be an example.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
Yes, very true, anonymous.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
meaningless action is meaningless for a reason
the part about meaningless action/noncomedy of manners is a good rule (and it's hard sometimes to edit out later).

The problem with this rule comes when you need to hide something or a detail is later shown to be significant. People throw in that kind of fluff to establish some kind of normalcy (or baseline) in order to subvert it later.

Is it necessary to create some kind of baseline behavior/action from which the narrator can diverge?

A related problem is not knowing when to stop a dialogue. Sometimes, I begin a scene of dialogue too early or don't cut it early enough. Underlying this is an inability to make smooth transitions, and that's why physical gestures or external actions become the transition points.

As a general rule, when rewriting, I look at a chunk of dialogue, remove a single line from both ends (start and finish), and say, could I get away with removing that? Finally, there will come a point where removing another line will start to hurt.

hapax legomenon
99 erotic notions
Oct. 2nd, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
Great Post
Forwarded to my screenwriting group. Thanks!
Oct. 2nd, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Great Post
Awesome. Thank you!
Oct. 2nd, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
"Writing Blunders"
And how about throwing some HUMOUR into as tale or novel, to leaven the action, give the characters some depth? Humour is one thing sorely missing from genre fiction--perhaps because it's so notoriously hard to write (and genre writers are so notoriously bad or mediocre). Good post and sound advice...
Oct. 2nd, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
Re: "Writing Blunders"
Yes! I love a mix of action and humor, but it's so hard to find. Either the humor makes the action unreal, or the action makes the humor situationally inappropriate.

Keith Laumer was able to pull it off, though.
Re: "Writing Blunders" - shakatany - Oct. 5th, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: "Writing Blunders" - eeknight - Oct. 5th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 2nd, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)
SO TRUE. I teach creative writing to college students, and I see these mistakes over and over and over again.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
Same boat.
(no subject) - raptorgirl - Oct. 2nd, 2007 07:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - eeknight - Oct. 2nd, 2007 09:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - raptorgirl - Oct. 2nd, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 2nd, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
on the head hopping (i.e. unlimited third omniscient narration): you can definitely do it, it has just fallen out of current literary fashion and seems unusual when done nowadays.

of course I think you mean unlimited third omniscient narration as used by authors of The Legend of Zelda fan fiction, but still...
Oct. 2nd, 2007 03:59 pm (UTC)
Your list of no-no's pretty well sums up the problems in making the transition from non-fiction writing to fiction. I will have to hang your list off of a corner of my computer for ongoing reference. Some electric shock when I enter narrator mode might be also be useful but I would only wind up short-circuiting the Eastern Seaboard with all the current that would use up!
Oct. 2nd, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)
Don't weigh me down with laundry lists of clothing and so much description I feel like a police sketch artist.

But then how ever will Laurell K. Hamilton show the world that not only is Anita Blake a badass, but a fashion-conscious badass!
Oct. 2nd, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Heh...
LKH is a professional with a sales track record I can only dream of. I wasn't criticizing her, just saying what I thought gummed up amateur fiction.
Re: Heh... - theotherbaldwin - Oct. 2nd, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
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