To be avoided like the plague!

avoid

It would be fair to say that some new writers fall into one or two of the inevitable hidden traps lurking within the world of words from time to time. Here are just a few examples.

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Let’s start by talking about one aspect of your book’s characters. Never ever reveal everything there is to know about them in one go. Think about it for a moment. Isn’t it far better to gradually find out tidbits of information about your friends, family members and work colleagues? Of course it is. The same applies to your characters. So why tell your readers everything you feel they need to know about them within the first few paragraphs?

Next we come to one of my pet hates – stating the obvious. Just because most of us at some point or other have done it in real life, doesn’t make it acceptable. You don’t have to look too far for classic examples of this particular trap. How many films, television programs and computer games do exactly that? Far too many, that’s how many.

Want an example?

How about when someone knocks on the door in a particular scene in a film or television drama? Why do the writers of the offending piece feel the need for one of the characters to vocalise, when it is blindingly obvious to you the viewer? You’ve got ears. So chances are you heard it, as did the characters!

When it comes to writing something of this nature, remember that if you need to tell your readers that someone knocked on the door at a given moment, either say so when you are writing the scene, or have one of your characters vocalise it – never do both! What makes you think that it is perfectly acceptable when telling a fictional story? It isn’t.

Before you start, don’t give me any of that art imitating life baloney. Just don’t do it, alright – grrr!

Next we come to writers who rely on the ‘third person’ where each and every character is referred to by the narrator as he, she, it, or they, to tell an entire tale. It’s fine if it is used in its proper context such as an item of news or as a voice over in any television documentary.

And now for the dreaded hero cliche. In certain films the hero or heroine is usually portrayed as some kind of superhuman, who follows a strict moral code. When it comes to writing, never portray your chief protagonist or protagonists in a perfect light. Instead, make him, her or them totally believable. While they may not be real, your readers need to think they are within the context of the story. To that end give them human faults, frailties and habits, both good and bad.

Just remember that most real hero’s are normal individuals just like you and I, with one major difference. In a given set of circumstances, they did something completely out of character to save the day.

Lastly, because you blindly accept without question what the various characters say and do in any film, play or television drama, it doesn’t follow that your readers will when they deign to read your book(s), if your characters aren’t believable.

If you want my advice, such as it is, think long and hard about each situation before you write that book. I’ve briefly touched on a few of the problems that still catch new writers out. There are many more traps for the unwary.

Here endeth the lesson.

😉

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45 thoughts on “To be avoided like the plague!

  1. Thank you for letting us in on this. Even though it sounds logical, it’s a good thing someone points it out so that it becomes clear to all and sundry. Keep on blogging in a free world and have a prophet-able day – The False Prophet

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      • I’d have to say that that’s entirely personal preference, not a “trap.” Sorry, but I’m not especially fond of first person perspective in books. I wouldn’t say “never write in first person” however since plenty of people do: far too many as far as I’m concerned. The narrator’s voice is a choice which should be carefully considered to fit the nature of the story being told. One should consider it carefully, but third person is a very valid option.

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      • Rotating first person is the annoying trend that I wish would end. Stories with multiple viewpoint characters should be in third person, in my opinion.

        (I also read one story that alternated between first person and third person, which was just weird.)

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  2. Thanks for this insightful post. A question, as regards vilains should the author, in your view try to endow them with a redeeming feature, (you mentioned the importance of showing a hero’s faults, hence my question). As I see it, you don’t need to endow a vilain with redeeming qualities although it can help to explain what made them what they are. For example a wife beater may have no redeeming qualities but the author may bring out the fact that he was abused as a child to shed light on (but not excuse) his behaviour). Kevin

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  3. All good things to remember. You now have me eyeing m current WIP quite critically. I’ll have to save that for the editing phase. I appreciate you sharing your insight.

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  4. You’re spot on about portraying heroes. I would add the same goes for villains; they’re so much more potent when they are three dimensional characters and not goggle-eyed lunatics.

    But I don’t know what you mean about vocalising someone knocking on a door. I’ve got this image of John Nettles in Midsomer Murder knocking on a door and shouting ‘I’m knocking on your door.’ Can you clarify that?

    Chris

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    • Simple Chris. Think about when someone knocks on the door and one of the characters says, “someone’s knocking on the door.” Either let one of them say it, or imply it when you are writing the scene. Just don’t use both. Especially if you are writing the scene for a film or play. 😉

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