By Bhalachandra Sahaj
I know this is a subject only lazy people blab about, like everyone is an expert telling you how to write and how not to write. Still, it is never too late to learn something new, and even if you consider yourself to be a mature writer, and even if you are a pro earning a luxurious living from writing, you can still learn a thing or two (or more). With this in mind, I decided to write a short post to point out some of most the typical—and annoying—writing mistakes people tend to make:
- Super-mega-ultra explanations.
- Piling up the backstory.
- Using words that mean nothing.
- Patching holes.
- Deus Ex Machina.
This is my personal writing sin. It can be difficult to withdraw the temptation to explain everything; it feels like readers won’t be able to get everything on their own, so I feel I must explain every little detail in my story to avoid misunderstanding.
If you are like me, relax. This is an illusion. Let your audience use their imagination, and leave some free space for them. Given this opportunity, the reader’s imagination often finds better ways to explain things than you do.
This is somewhat similar to the previous point. This mistake is often triggered when an author develops a detailed setting, rich with events, and wants to engage readers in it. Therefore, they throw the backstory of their world or characters at their audience without hesitation, regardless of whether there is an appropriate reason for it or not.
“He quickly moved around the office”; “She was a gorgeous bombshell able to easily drive men insane.” Blah blah. Do these descriptions convey at least any image? None, or at least a blurry and indecent one. If you say, “Her tanned skin and black eyes blazed with Mexican heat, making all guys in the office sweat instantly” it will give your readers a much brighter picture. Use strong verbs, specific adjectives, and avoid metaphors and comparative cliches.
By this I mean trying to fix every little discrepancy, inconsistency, or flaw. Not all of them are obvious to your readers. If they like your story, they will find an excuse or explanation for these flaws themselves; if they do not like it, however, none of such fixes will help you anyways. Focus on crafting the main storyline, creating realistic characters and vivid environments. You can fix the logic later. And even if you miss something, it will not matter as much as you believe.
This one is a big NO. In ancient Greek theater, “Deus Ex Machina” was a name for a theatrical technique when gods appeared on stage out of the blue and solved the problems of characters (or killed them, or messed their lives up, or did whatever else).
In literature, it has approximately the same meaning. All of us sometimes get stuck in the process of writing, not knowing how to logically continue a story or get out of a plot’s dead end. For example, you drive your character into a trap, and then realize that there is no way you can get him or her out of it!
The worst thing you can do in this case is to introduce a brand new character or event, whose only function is to save the situation and then disappear. Like, when your police detective gets suppressed by bandit fire in an old dockyard, and there is no way out, an asteroid suddenly falls from the sky and makes a hole in a yard’s wall right behind the detective’s back, and he escapes.
Don’t do this, and your writing will eventually improve. Good luck!