I rarely give writing advice without first being asked, but in having to sort and read through a steaming heap of books in order to select five for a feature review I’m doing–and having a hard time picking five books because the majority are, unfortunately, stinkers–I’ve been annoyed by a few things frequently enough that I feel I now have to say something. And mind you, these are things I’ve seen in the books I liked. If I were to write a post about what I’ve seen in the books I did not like, we’d be here until next week.
First new writing pet peeve (I’ve made up the lines, but not the gimmick they employ):
Last line of chapter 1: There was a knock on the door, and everyone went still. The door swung open.
First line of chapter 2: They gasped when they saw Mr. Templebottom standing on the porch.
No. Do not end a chapter in the middle of a scene because you want the suspense effect. This is not suspense. This is stupid. If you want your reader to be in suspense, how about you write better instead of using a cheap and ineffective gimmick? I’m more inclined to forgive this kind of thing (and other writing faux pas) if it only shows up in your book once or twice. But if you start ending every other chapter like this, I’m going to start thinking you’re a one-trick pony. And then I’m going to get annoyed because, as far as I knew, I paid to see a circus, and all you’re giving me is an old mule in a party hat. Stop it.
My second writing pet peeve (which has enraged me for some time, but because of this review thing, has cropped up again): don’t allow your writing to devolve during the last fifty pages of your book. I hate it when I’m trucking along in a novel, liking it just fine, and then all of a sudden, it’s as though the writer got tired and lazy and stopped caring about Ye Olde Reader. Out of nowhere, I’m being pelted by unoriginal metaphors and schmaltzy gestures, and I’m being told too much about the eyes and what they are or aren’t conveying to another character’s eyes, and what that does or does not mean for said characters’ hearts. Now I want to beat you over the head with your own book, but because I can’t, I throw it on the floor. And then, because you’ve probably done a good job up to this point (because if you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have read this far), I will have to get out of bed, pick up the book, and keep reading because I want to know how it ends. But I will be hating you more and more with every word I read, and I will probably be cursing you under my breath.
Writing a book is hard. I understand. By the time you’re nearing the end, you want to kill yourself and your characters and probably the people who live with you or even within a ten-mile radius of you. But if you find yourself writing rushed scenes, using too many adjectives, or saying “eyes” every third word–well, keep writing because you’re not going to stop fidgeting until you do. And then, for the love of all that is holy and not crappy in this world, shut down the computer and walk away. I mean it. Walk away from the book for at least a month. If you don’t, you will hate yourself. And I will hate you, too.
Walking away from a book is hard. I understand. You’re “done” so you really want to be done, and to you, that means getting the book out into the world and out of your hands. But you need to seriously, seriously pause and think before you do this. Sit yourself down and say, “Okay, were we maybe getting a little rushy in those last few chapters? Is ‘her eyes looked sad’ really the best we can do?” (I find that talking to myself in the royal we during self-critique sessions helps. You may copy and join me in Schizoland, if you like.) If the answer to the first question is “yes,” and the answer to the second one is “no,” then put the book away for a while. Work on something else. Write a poem, do some reading, maybe spend time with those people you kind of want to kill so you remember why you love them and decided to live with them in the first place.
And when and only when you can approach your book with fresh energy and oomph, do so, and then revise and write it better. You will thank yourself for it, and your readers (and reviewers) will thank you, too. Do you really want to be the book I throw on the floor and/or blog about in a rage? I don’t think you do. I think you want to be the book I text my friends about when I finish and say, “This book was so good that I’m actually jealous I didn’t write it.” (True story. I’ve texted that. Once.) And the only way for you to be that second book is to stop using tricks or being lazy, do your job, and do your job well. On you go. You have a circus to coordinate. Razzle dazzle me.