Rookie Mistakes?

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Margo
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 5:18 pm

cheekychook wrote:It works for Stephanie Meyer's vampires...
Storytelling aside....sparkly day-walking vamps with additional superpowers to boot? What exactly is the downside to all that power, beauty, health, wealth, and immortality? Oh right, going to high school...forever.

Which brings up another fantasy rookie mistake. Magic or supernatural power which has no price, no downside, and weak, malleable, or non-existent limits. I think SM squeaks by this one by pointing out the Cullens have to move periodically to keep people from realizing they never age.

Then again, a few of her vamps are guilty of the Louis complex. "Louis, Louis, Louis, still whining after all these years!"

[Disclaimer: Though I don't consider myself a Twilight-hater, I do own a mug, received as a gift, that reads: And then Buffy staked Edward. The End.]
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by cheekychook » June 20th, 2010, 5:37 pm

Yes, in terms of writing most cliches are seen as bad. There's a problem with that, though. Cliches become cliches in the first place because they're commonly accepted.

While I agree that it can be good to hear a detailed yet different description of someone's appearance there's also something to be said for a description that immediately brings an image to mind. For whatever reason, blue eyes of a certain kind have a tendency to be more piercing...chocolate brown conjures the image of a very specific, easily accessible color...most people can envision slate grey without any thought.

I'm not saying I advocate the use of these particular adjectives to describe these colors (and I actually don't use them, except in the off-the-cuff descriptions I created as examples in my above post), but they do give very concrete pictures when they're used. I actually think I have read just as many descriptions of things like aquamarine eyes, earthy brown hair, etc as I have read the cliches you mentioned.Generally anything that puts the correct image in my mind is okay with me.

Honestly, when people go out of their way use other desciptors it sometimes acts as more of a distraction than an enhancement. While I want to know what something looks like I do not want to spend time wondering what the author meant. If I have to stop and think about moss in order to conjure a picture of "moss green eyes", or wonder if the "coffee brown" referred to dark roast or more of a milky cappucino, then I've been pulled out of the mood of the story, and that's a bad thing. Maybe that's just me.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 5:44 pm

cheekychook wrote:Honestly, when people go out of their way use other desciptors it sometimes acts as more of a distraction than an enhancement.
Perhaps a happy medium, then, because I'm at the other end of the spectrum where I see 'piercing blue eyes" and stop to roll my piercing blue eyes. I do think there is something between the most common cliche that springs to mind and a descriptor so obscure that people need to use google images to see what the heck the writer is talking about.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by cheekychook » June 20th, 2010, 5:53 pm

Margo wrote:
cheekychook wrote:It works for Stephanie Meyer's vampires...
Storytelling aside....sparkly day-walking vamps with additional superpowers to boot? What exactly is the downside to all that power, beauty, health, wealth, and immortality? Oh right, going to high school...forever.

Which brings up another fantasy rookie mistake. Magic or supernatural power which has no price, no downside, and weak, malleable, or non-existent limits. I think SM squeaks by this one by pointing out the Cullens have to move periodically to keep people from realizing they never age.

Then again, a few of her vamps are guilty of the Louis complex. "Louis, Louis, Louis, still whining after all these years!"

[Disclaimer: Though I don't consider myself a Twilight-hater, I do own a mug, received as a gift, that reads: And then Buffy staked Edward. The End.]
All I meant was that Stephanie Meyer's vampires have reflections.

I'm not about to start defending her writing style and I willingly admit that she makes countless rookie mistakes in her writing, but I still enjoyed the books. Mistakes/skill/etc aside she crafted a story and characters that lured in endless numbers of readers; have to give credit where credit is due.

Disagree about there being no downside to "all that power"---they can't eat, they can't sleep, they were forced to "disappear" from the their real lives, any humans they grow to care about eventually die, they're forced to live a perpetual lie, they're largely ostracized by their "own kind", they (with the exception of Edward's unprecedented union with Bella) can't procreate... for "superpowers" they're a pretty tortured, angst-ridden lot. Just saying...
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 20th, 2010, 6:21 pm

Stephenie Meyer was cheating. Seriously, Cheekychook, you're right that one person's cliche can be another's immediate and economical shorthand descriptor. Always avoiding anything someone might call a cliche can become a cliche in its own right.

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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 7:16 pm

cheekychook wrote:Disagree about there being no downside to "all that power"---they can't eat, they can't sleep, they were forced to "disappear" from the their real lives, any humans they grow to care about eventually die, they're forced to live a perpetual lie, they're largely ostracized by their "own kind", they (with the exception of Edward's unprecedented union with Bella) can't procreate... for "superpowers" they're a pretty tortured, angst-ridden lot. Just saying...
I think this one is also a matter of interpretation. You see that they can't eat or sleep. I read it as they don't have to eat or sleep. The disappearing part and seeing others die I agree with, as the one way SM squeaked by. Ostracism isn't a downside of their supernatural abilities, but of their moral choices. Procreation is a relative value, especially for those who don't wish to, and the inability to procreate isn't exclusive to vampires. Overall, I'd sorta kinda maybe put that one in the price of power column, particularly for Rosalie. Living a lie? I'm iffy on this one. Again, a great deal of this is based not on necessity but choice. The Volturi don't worry about most of these things, right? So they are self-imposed limitations on power that could be thrown off.

Yes, they are terrible tortured and angst-ridden...for creatures that will never know the pain of old age or the terror of losing their mental faculties...who will never lose their beauty...who will never want for creature comforts...who are doomed to always be stronger and faster...and who have formed an immortal family unit of others who will also never die.

In the end, I guess I'm still with Lestat on this one.

Edit: Upon further consideration, I think I would place the procreation issue more certainly in the cost column, but I would still liked to have seen more direct cost for the use of power (LKH does this well with her werecreatures) and more limitations. Good discussion. Reminds me to reassess my supernatural characters for both cost and limitation.
Last edited by Margo on June 20th, 2010, 8:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 7:17 pm

J. T. SHEA wrote: Always avoiding anything someone might call a cliche can become a cliche in its own right.
How so?
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Claudie » June 20th, 2010, 9:52 pm

On the over-used, shortcut colour description topic (because I really, really don't want to get involved in a Twilight discussion. It's bad for my health!)

While I agree that descriptions such as 'piercing blue eyes' will bring the image you want right away, it has a risk. In my case, anyway, such an image will vanish almost as quickly. Piercing blue eyes will make me roll my eyes, like Margo, and it won't give a lasting image.

Yes, if you try too hard to get an original description, you may also be distracting. If you succeed, however, you can create a lasting and unique image. I think it's worth trying, and running the new descriptions past betas. After all, if the character's appearance is important enough for you to give it careful thoughts, then I believe it's worth the time to find something else than the quick easy-image descriptors.

Those, in my opinions, should be gone from MCs descritptions by the second or third drafts.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 20th, 2010, 9:57 pm

Margo, because, no matter what you write, somebody somewhere wrote it before, and somebody somewhere else will call it a cliche'. And roll their piercing blue eyes. That's a hell of a lot to avoid.

Cheekychook gave several examples. Defensive writing can have a characteristic clunkiness with descriptors 'so obscure that people need to use Google Images to see what the heck the writer is talking about' in your own memorable phrase.

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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 10:13 pm

J. T. SHEA wrote:Margo, because, no matter what you write, somebody somewhere wrote it before, and somebody somewhere else will call it a cliche'. And roll their piercing blue eyes. That's a hell of a lot to avoid.

Cheekychook gave several examples. Defensive writing can have a characteristic clunkiness with descriptors 'so obscure that people need to use Google Images to see what the heck the writer is talking about' in your own memorable phrase.

Ah, but there is a big difference between "somebody somewhere wrote it before" and written so many times it's a recognizable cliche. Plus, while I agree completely that all ideas/themes have been used before, I don't agree that every way of saying those things have been written already.

I'm not sure why you equate not defaulting to a cliche to 'defensive writing', so perhaps you could elaborate on that a bit more. And, as I said, there is something between the cliche and the obscure. (Cool, I didn't know if I could put that many codes around a word and have them still work. I kinda went to town on that one.)

And, yes, avoiding cliches as much as consciously possible...along with all the other things we've listed on this thread...is a hell of a lot to ask/do, and a hell of a lot of work. But I doubt many of us got past chapter one of our first books before we realized that good writing is exactly that.

There are genres more forgiving of cliches and several of the techniques we've listed as rookie mistakes here, others much less so. That will probably also color why one writer says something isn't that big a deal and another declares it the worst idea EVER.

Moral of the story, I guess: KNOW THE RULES OF YOUR GENRE
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 10:25 pm

cheekychook wrote:It works for Stephanie Meyer's vampires...
Southern vampires, too, apparently. True Blood just went off. Pam (the vampire) was putting on lipstick in the ladies room mirror, and I thought of this thread. How sad. LOL.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Claudie » June 20th, 2010, 10:44 pm

Margo wrote:Moral of the story, I guess: KNOW THE RULES OF YOUR GENRE
Rookie Mistake: Not knowing the rules of your genre. ;)

For the record, I think of this thread on a regular basis. So either it's not sad, or that's two of us.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by polymath » June 20th, 2010, 11:09 pm

"Piercing blue eyes" Who thinks that? Who says that? Who reports that? Who experiences that visual sensation? Author, narrator, or viewpoint character? Narrated or nonnarrated narrative? Overt narrator or covert narrator? I'm going into intermediate writing "mistakes" though, which "rookies" might also make. The issue I see is unsettled voice, when a narrative shifts awkwardly from a lecturing-from-a-stage author commentary to narrator observation to narrator reported viewpoint character perception and cognition and back and forth without a meaningful rhetorical purpose.

"Piercing blues eyes" is unequivocally Description. It could also be Introspection if thought by a viewpoint character, probably not Action, least likely to be dynamic action, also can be Narration, maybe somewhat Emotion, a visual Sensation, maybe a tactile sensation, unquestionably a Summarization, most descriptions logically can only summarize, also possibly Exposition information detailing, if in dialogue then it is Conversation, might be a Recollection, not likely Explanation but not unequivocally, unlikely to be Transition. DIANE'S SECRET.

To me, "piercing blue eyes" works best when it's reported as a viewpoint character's perception or cognition, less effective as a narrator's perception. The narrator is making a judgment call, telling and summarizing for readers how the eyes are meant to appear from the narrator's subjective perspective. Weakest if author's surrogacy transparently is involved. Context matters most. Anything might work if it's closest to a viewpoint character's perceptions and cognitions.

Flat characters aren't necessarily poorly portrayed characters. Flat mostly means a character who's superficially depicted, might be solely physically described. A character whose physical appearances are amply depicted can still be flat. A character who's not abundantly appearance-wise described can be round if personality and behavior traits are portrayed. In other words depicted with a depth of personality. Flat characters artfully take a backseat in narratives with setting, idea, or event emphasis. A round character is one who audience readers have a close personal rapport with because of similar personality traits, emotions, behaviors, values, needs, and/or desires, to the point readers become the character, and without jeopardizing rapport by a central character having a markedly different physical appearance than readers.

Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" has all flat and static characters. It's an idea, event, and setting time, place, and situation short story populated with MacGuffin personas. Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" has all flat characters. Bartleby is peculiarly dynamic in his static nature though. Isabella Swan is not amply, physically described, nor is she flat or static. Twilight readers get to be closer to Bella because they can become her without a pesky dissonance of appearances.

"Harrison Bergeron" 1961, 2,000 words.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by polymath » June 21st, 2010, 12:26 am

Worn out, overused tropes and motifs are what make clichés. Tropes like similes and metaphors, motifs like sympathetic vampires, cute dragons, and exploding starships. I consider cliché tropes things television personailites use in sound bites.

A worn out simile, my love is like a rose; a worn out metaphor, a picture is worth a thousand words. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. The picture metaphor comes from a full or half-page illustration in a periodical digest or newspaper paying the illustrator the equivalent of one-thousand words.

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth," originated as practical literal folk wisdom, became a metaphor, became a worn out metaphor. Horse breeders look a horse in the mouth to check its teeth and gums. If the teeth and gums are in bad shape, it's a symptom of a weak heart. The bacterias that cause tooth and gum decay also cause heart problems. The metaphor means, don't second guess or question gifts or the motives behind giving them.

"Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," again, originally folk wisdom, became a metaphor, became worn out. I know a few Trojans who wish they'd looked a Greek gift horse in the mouth.

Worn out motifs have an odd tendency to be tomorrow's reinvented freshly original motifs. Motifs and tropes alike might also become part of a language's meaning. Take the verb to run. Jake and Jane run the oval track. What about Jane ran the store? Is she running around the store or managing it? Jake ran the cash register, meaning operated it.

"White elephant" means a burdensome gift, like a ceramic figurine Kodiak bear with a clock in its belly. White elephant in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" means an unexpected pregnancy. Originally, a white elephant was an albino elephant given as a gift with ulterior motives. They are difficult and costly to keep healthy. A spiteful competitor might give a pair of white elephants to a supposed ally hoping they would die. A superficially generous gift that nonetheless transfers a huge burden onto a recipient, a hazardous courtly intrigue.

Reinventing clichés revitalizes them, ideally without awkwardly mixing metaphors. For example, a vampire is a metaphor for a social parasite. Reinventing the vampire motif would best avoid loosing sight of vampires' subconscious symbolisms, their parasitism mostly. I couldn't stomach a robotic space faring vampire, unless the vampire robot sucked vital data instead of blood. But how might that be meaningful? And it seems closer to the zombie parasite motif than vampire symbolism.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by izanobu » June 21st, 2010, 2:09 am

My biggest rookie mistake that I made for years was getting (and taking) writing/publishing advice from other newbs instead of seeking out established professionals and people who were ahead of me on the path I wanted to be on. So I'd say: don't listen to people who are where you are, listen to people who've made it to where you want to be :)

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