writing tips

The Unlucky 13 Continues: 8, 7

Raven - king of the crows

Thanks for joining me again for the next instalment of my top 13 hates in writing. If you missed the first in the series, where I start my  rant with ‘Number 13: “Insert pithy comment here,” he laughed’ and ‘Number 12: How to use adverbs dramatically, enticingly and generally really really well’ read it here; or the second, containing ‘Number 11: I felt a feeling’, ‘Number 10: Fun with exclamation marks!’ and ‘Number 9: A little. A bit. Somewhat. Several. A number of.’, read it here.

Meanwhile, the challenge to incorporate every last unlucky one of the 13 in a single novel continues!

Train tracks end in the middle of nowhere Damn! I meant to finish writing this scene in my last edit.

8.    Continuity issues. Don’t they just get in the.

This can be obvious to the reader, but it’s an easy one to overlook by the author.

We know what it’s like – Barney started out as background player Mavis in the first draft, had red hair, and stayed home every Tuesday. But by the last draft, Barney has now become Tom and is the main protagonist and doesn’t even have a home to bother about Tuesdays.

So when he hitches up his skirt, or brushes a strand of red hair over his ear, or dares to leave the house on Tuesday, it’s just a leftover piece that got missed in the edits.

Robert Rankin takes the mickey out of this concept really well in his Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse when one of his characters tries to jump up in protest, but found he was still jumped up from his last protest so jumped down instead.

I recently read 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad. It’s a great book (see my review on goodreads) but there was a scene where one of the teenage astronauts (yep. Teenage astronauts. I could explain, but Harstad does it so much better, so please, just go read it) picks up Buzz Aldrin’s boots, apparently left behind on the moon (maybe when he peed in them?!).

The adult astronaut radios Houston and says ‘one of the kids just took Buzz Aldrin’s boots’ and Houston replies ‘let her keep them’. Excuse me? There were male and female teenagers up there, how did Houston know it was a girl who took a man’s boots?

Read out loud. Have someone else read it and be honest in their feedback. Detach from your own work in the final re-read. Get edited. Listen to your agent and publisher.

Because even though we know how mistakes get there, we still stumble over the hurdle. Do you remember (anyone over 40 or so) when you’d go to the movies, be right up to the good bit, and the reel would break down?

Well that’s exactly what little hurdles do to the movie reel running in our heads. We say to ourselves, ‘what’d I miss?’. We flick back and check. We re-read.

Do anything you can to keep that reel running to the end. Don’t give your reader the excuse they need to put that book down. Keep them up all night and grumpy at work because they’ll share your story and give you positive reviews.

(However, I don’t care what I think Johan Harstad did wrong, I gave that book five stars (only because there was no option for six)).

"You step forward." "There's nowhere to go. You step forward." “Crap! He’s done it to us again.”

7.    Characters can’t speak without stepping forward.

In one of Terry Goodkind’s later books in the Sword of Truth series, the major players were having a serious discussion, and each of them took a step forward when they had their say.

Had it been a play, I would have been the Homer Simpson of the audience, and annoyed everyone with my inappropriate laughter.

The characters were having the discussion near the dais of a grand hall. It was the imminent end of the world and all things of beauty and creatures of grace would be destroyed if our characters did nothing.

The picture in my mind is one of a big, richly appointed, echoing room, with the characters standing in a loose group.

Then Richard steppped forward to give his view, and Kahlan stepped forward to give hers. Cara stepped forward to ask a question and Zed stepped forward to give his warning.

Richard stepped forward (there wasn’t even an ‘again’ – Goodkind didn’t even realise he was doing it) with a proposal, and Cara stepped forward to demand she join him. Kahlan stepped forward to—

Like I said, I’m in hysterics.

Here’s the picture in my mind: – Zed is played by Leslie Nielsen, Richard by Mr Bean, Cara is Betty White, and Kahlan is Melissa McCarthy.

If they were facing each other in a rough circle, they’d now be on top of each other elbowing for space.

At some point, Mr Bean strode off to take action, with Betty White following, and then the stepping forward took on a new twist as they all stepped forward and spoke one at a time in a close-knit group, all the way to the distant entrance.

We owe it to our readers to think things through.

(Terry Goodkind – I still love you).

Thanks for joining me again, and now I must return to my own WIP – Barney just stepped forward and hitched up his skirt again…

The countdown continues!


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