There’s no better way to learn something than to see a real example of what NOT to do.
If you’re a self-taught writer, you’ve probably already learned the big lessons:
- Show, don’t tell
- Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly (or not at all)
- Less (description) is more
- Use strong verbs
- Avoid clichés
- Good dialogue shouldn’t need tags
I know there’s more. I’ll add them as I think of them. But that’s not my point.
You’ll hear these tips over and over, and you’ll make use of them. You’ll cut adverbs and adjectives and strengthen your verbs and nouns. You’ll replace whole paragraphs of description with one meaningful detail. You’ll eradicate 90% of your obsessively placed dialogue tags (my most recent crusade, and wow, am I guilty). You’ll think your work is done.
Put it on hold.
Then find some bad books. This is subjective, I know, but find books that bore you, books that you want to throw across the room (see Find an Outlet for some Oleaginous Mush), books that beat you over the head and make you feel like you’re so dense you need every little detail spelled out.
There’s a lot of self-published books on Amazon that serve this purpose well. Books that never met an editor, or a beta reader for that matter. Most are only $.99.
Getting through them will be the worst torture you could imagine. But you will be surprised what you will learn. Adverbs and adjectives will leap at you–your jugular, to be exact. Long, winding, redundant description will have you going for your jugular. “Telling” was hard for me to spot early in my writing. Now, it’s a Chevy Suburban in a parking lot full of Smart Cars.
It’s easier to see flaws in writing that is not your own. Once you see them, you will then start to see them in your writing.
I’m reading a self-published book on Kindle right now, and it is painful to say the least. However, after the one hundredth reference to the heroine’s eye color with no other useful description to go with it, and no real reason to mention it to begin with, I got a sick feeling in my gut. Did I do this?
I searched my MS for every reference to eye color. Would the protag be thinking about the person’s eye color at that moment? Is it necessary to the story? Is it a cheap way to throw in description?
You notice someone’s eyes when you first meet them. Or if there’s something different about their eyes, a change you’re not used to. Or if you’re smitten with the person and/or a crazy stalker. That’s it.
So, to the author of the book I’m reading now: Don’t tell me her eyes are “liquid brown” every time your hero looks at her! Yes he may be smitten and/or a crazy stalker, but he’s supposed to be an artist! Show us he’s more creative than that! Take some time. Make it meaningful. Or cut it out and spare us.