Rookie Mistakes?

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Quill
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Quill » June 19th, 2010, 7:45 am

Cliches in language and characterization.

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polymath
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by polymath » June 19th, 2010, 9:21 am

I've got a few bête noires. A few. More than a few. It seems every one, though, I can name a widely acclaimed narrative that uses one or more to good effect. Well-crafted, anything goes. Writing is a process of trial and error. Writing heresies and blasphemies stand out from the mediocre background, sometimes they're good; sometimes they're groan worthy.

I think a big rookie mistake is not to tolerate making mistakes, or expecting to not make mistakes. The exalted heights of mistakes are the ones that foul up in reverse and are realized as exquisite, praiseworthy virtues.

I'm not fond of countdowns used to create false tension. Ten, nine, eight . . . Three things; firstly, this; secondly, that; thirdly, neither this nor that.

I don't like loosing touch with viewpoint characters. KIT is an old writing how-to mnenonic for Keep In Touch.

I like complicated plots. Multiple viewpoint characters complicate plots deliciously. Transitions from one viewpoint character to another without finishing the dramatic unit floats like a lead balloon. A completed dramatic unit, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a narrative entire, includes at least a discovery and a reversal. Anagnorisis and peripetia. Discoveries are realizations, uncovered information, and/or recognitions. Reversals are crises, refusals, denials, setbacks, letdowns, or resolutions.

I don't like a narrative that has no plot anchor, a plot vehicle with which to most closely accompany a narrative. In some narratives, the anchor is the narrator, in others it's a main viewpoint character's insuperable dilemma, in others it's a setting's dilemma, situation mostly rather than time or place, in others it's an insuperable idea, in others it's an insuperable event. In many, and ideally, it's a weighted balance of all five, and plot.

Plot is a many splendored possibility. It's theoretically possible to have a plot without at least one or more elementals of character, setting, idea, or event, as odd as that might seem on first blush. Structuralist definitions of plot are something along the lines of a causally related series of events. However, the artful definition of narrative is a composition with the power to stimulate readers' emotions. Many critics expert and amateur alike name certain widely acclaimed narratives plotless. Experimental fiction is often indicted for being plotless. The stimulation of a plot doesn't need to take place in a narrative's story space, per se, it takes place in readers' meaning spaces. When readers' meaning spaces align with a story space, it's majestic.

I don't like And Plots, where something happens in the beginning, and something happens in the middle, and something happens in the ending, and to no relevant or meaningful end.

I don't like being fooled with. One narrative with an absurd trick ending is enough for a lifetime, like shaggy dog stories, or shaggy god stories, or joke endings that end on an absurd note and make a fool out of readers for wasting our time and emotions reading them.

I don't like being preached too or being ordered around either. I get a full ration of those in life.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by jkmcdonnell » June 19th, 2010, 9:41 am

Others will disagree with this (and are totally entitled to), but for me, prologues are a sign of either a beginner or lazy writing. It's way more interesting to see this kind of background information worked into the plot, finding out as the characters do, keeping the suspense going. It's just an info dump. Likewise, in media res openings, where the story begins with a short splice of a later event (usually action), feels like the author is just saying, 'I know it's boring at the start, but stick with me' - like they're not confident in the rest of their writing.

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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Down the well » June 19th, 2010, 9:43 am

Margo wrote:Describing the main character by having him/her stand in front of or pass by a mirror or other reflective surface and pause to admire his/her own heart-shaped face or strong jaw and piercing blue/emerald green/chocolate brown/slate gray eyes and flowing/unruly cascades of hair.
Totally did that in my first novel, but only after I had the character wake up from a dream.

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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Claudie » June 19th, 2010, 11:26 am

jkmcdonnell wrote:Others will disagree with this (and are totally entitled to), but for me, prologues are a sign of either a beginner or lazy writing.
You could say "prologues that only serve to set up backstory" and then I think all could agree.
polymath wrote:I think a big rookie mistake is not to tolerate making mistakes, or expecting to not make mistakes.
THIS. No matter how much we seek out information and advice, we all make mistakes. It's a rookie mistake to believe you will not make any.
"I do not think there is any thrill [...] like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." -- Nikola Tesla

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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by dios4vida » June 19th, 2010, 12:31 pm

I think my biggest rookie mistakes were having a plot that wasn't driven and too many coincidences. I started with a great idea for a novel, but as I wrote the story it didn't really fit into anything - I was missing polymath's anchor, so to speak. There were some great scenes in my novel, but there was very little tension to drive the story along and pull everything together. This led to gaping plot holes and a story in which you lost interest very quickly. Even I can't read it through, and I wrote the darn thing!

My other big mistake was having too many coincidences. They got here and luckily, this person was there to meet them...they got into danger, and luckily this happened...luckily...luckily...luckily... I learned very quickly to fear this word. If your protaganists are always meeting a fortunate situation, there's something wrong. If they get out of danger by sheer luck, then there's something VERY wrong. Protaganists need to work for their achievements just as hard (or harder) than real people do - otherwise the story feels too easy. Make it hard, make them work for each step, and push them further than even you think they can handle. You'll be surprised by the strength that can arise in your characters when their backs are to the wall.

There are a lot of others out there, most of which have been mentioned, and even I'm learning a thing or two from this thread! Thanks, everyone!
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Mi.Ishi » June 20th, 2010, 3:23 am

I think that one of the most crippling rookie mistakes is having several scene changes within 15 pages of writing. Too many times I have come across a first chapter of amateur writing, and the scene changes three times.

Obviously, a flat character is a rookie mistake. I think that's very well-explained with the mirror and the green eyes and the unruly hair mentioned before. Rookies often associate interesting/attractive appearance with a cool and fascinating and genuine persona, which is obviously not the case.

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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by GeeGee55 » June 20th, 2010, 1:40 pm

Most of my mistakes resulted from not having the experience to see what was really on the page, that what was in my mind hadn't made it onto the page in a clear way. I had trouble with transitioning smoothly between scenes, going smoothly into a flashback so as not to startle the reader. Clarity regarding who was speaking or thinking was another area of difficulty. Choosing a viewpoint character - when I first started I wanted to tell what was in everybody's head. And choosing names - I once named a man Blackie (nothing to do with his race), and the readers reacted with is this a man or a horse? So many mistakes, but now when I make them, and I still do, I can recognize and try to fix them. Not trusting myself, my own vision of the story, has been a big bugaboo. Sometimes, I can be right and someone with more experience can give me bad advice. That's been a hard thing to learn.

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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by cheekychook » June 20th, 2010, 3:18 pm

I don't consider having a character with any particular "look" to be a rookie mistake---it's the delivery of the description of that character that usually trips up the writer.

Character description is very important, and a description of physical attributes is usually part of that. Depending on the genre and the type of character it can be an extremely important. If you're writing a love story told from the pov of one of the people in love, chances are your pov character is, at some point, going to admire the object of his/her affection and will describe him/her in a way that would be over the top for describing someone you pass on the street but is appropriate for describing the man/woman who has captured your heart.

Some characters have unusual or particularly notable physical attributes, as do some real people. It would be a mistake NOT to tell the reader about something noteworthy regarding your character. If men stop and stare at your character's flowing blond hair, then you should probably mention it. If women are mesmerized by your character's piercing sky-blue eyes, by all means, tell us. It's not a mistake to have an attractive character or one with particular features. The mistake can come in if the character is described in a detailed info dump rather than having the info dispersed in the writing.

It's really all in the delivery. And in the message that it sends.

Having someone else say "her heartshaped face gave her a youthful appearance" or "her unruly chestnut hair fell across her face each time she reached across the table" or "the grey shirt made his eyes even more blue than usual; I had to remind myself to keep breathing" (they're not great examples, work with me here) are preferable descriptors to "She looked in the mirror at her heart-shaped face, her unruly blond hair and sparkling blue eyes". Although, if your character is constantly stopping to admire his or her image in any reflective surface (and we've all known someone like that) then even the admire-self-in-mirror technique can work.

People don't generally look at themselves and think in basic terms; people already know what they look like. It's not likely you'll look in the mirror tonight and think "My almond-shaped chocolate brown eyes are glistening with excitement." You might, however, look in the mirror and think "I should clip my bangs to the side more often, it makes my face look thinner" or "I should wear this color more often, it makes my eyes look more brown(blue,green, whatever)".

Likewise, it's important to make sure that a character's comments match up with what that person would actually know. "She felt her face flush" is fine, because you do actually feel your face flush. "She felt her eyes twinkle back at him"...do you feel your eyes twinkle? You can think your eyes are twinkling, but it's not really something you "feel".

A good question to ask yourself when you're writing is "Does the person who is talking really think/see things that way?" If the pov character would say it, leave it in. If the pov character would think it, leave it in. If not, find some other way to get that info across.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 20th, 2010, 4:20 pm

And the mirror thing won't work with vampires...

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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by cheekychook » June 20th, 2010, 4:28 pm

It works for Stephanie Meyer's vampires...
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 4:56 pm

Bryan Russell/Ink wrote:Hey, I admire my strong jaw and piercing blue eyes all the time in real life. Is this bad?

:)
(Eyeing Ink suspiciously) You're not a male leo, are you?
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 4:59 pm

Down the well wrote:Totally did that in my first novel, but only after I had the character wake up from a dream.

Uh-oh. I'm sorry to inform you that you have used up your 'face palm' allowance for this lifetime.

Confidentially, I did that too. Don't spread that around, though. :P
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 5:01 pm

jkmcdonnell wrote:Others will disagree with this (and are totally entitled to), but for me, prologues are a sign of either a beginner or lazy writing.
I have the same reaction, though I also agree with Claudie that this is usually because of people using a prologue as an excuse to begin with backstory, which doesn't always have to be the case...but it usually is.
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Re: Rookie Mistakes?

Post by Margo » June 20th, 2010, 5:10 pm

cheekychook wrote:I don't consider having a character with any particular "look" to be a rookie mistake---it's the delivery of the description of that character that usually trips up the writer.
I agree to some extent, though I have met an agent who is sick to DEATH of heroines with heart-shaped faces and unruly red hair. It's more the cliche factor, the tendency to pull the first thing out of one's psyche and slap it down on paper like millions of others before us. For descriptions of eyes, 'piercing' always goes with 'blue'. People with green eyes have 'emerald green eyes' far more often than sea green or forest green, etc. Ditto for chocolate brown. I'd love to see a brown like coffee or sable or mud or mahogany. And gray is so so often slate.

We can't get away with most other cliches; why should we get away with cliche descriptions of appearance?
Last edited by Margo on June 20th, 2010, 5:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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