Top Six Things I Hate Seeing in Amateur Writing

Posted by F1ak3r on March 26, 2012, 2:58 p.m.

It's about time for another blog post. In an attempt to get back to my roots as a verbose git who posts mountains of tl;dr, I present you with this Cracked-style list of the top six things I hate seeing in amateur writing.

What follows may include hyperbole for effect. Rest assured that none of this put-on melodramatic rage was caused by any of your actions, gentledigitians. It's just the rest of the internet.

6. Began to verb

Quote:
The barrel began to roll down the hill.
Quote:
The men drew their swords and began to fight.
Quote:
I fell into a lake and started to get wet.
A possible rival for "causing" in the race to replace emotion and directness with the robotic use of stock phrases, "began to"/"started to" is a dreadful tautology that has far fewer legitimate place in writing than some seem to think.

A lot of beginning writers have the baffling tendency to describe things as "starting to happen" when they'd be better off describing those same things simply as "happening" or using a more appropriate and descriptive verb to begin with.

Quote:
The barrel toppled over the hill.
Quote:
The men drew their swords and flew at each other.
Quote:
I fell into a lake and got wet.

5. Direct thought enclosed by single quotes

Quote:
"Whatever you want to watch is cool," I said. 'Please don't want to see Twilight…'
Who thought this would be a good idea? Having direct thought indicated by single quotes makes it frightfully easy to mistake for dialogue, and single quotes are pretty nasty little things in any case… don't know why anyone would want to touch those glorified apostrophes….

Indicating thoughts with italics is so much nicer, thought the blog author to himself. Hell, you technically don't even need to set thoughts apart from the rest of the narrative at all.

4. Incorrect dialogue punctuation

Nothing gets me down like seeing an otherwise mechanically competent writer mangle his/her dialogue with unholy constructions like

Quote:
"I am talking." Said the guy.
which is the dialogue equivalent of

Quote:
I killed. A man.

It makes you wonder if people even read books anymore, considering how a glance in any printed book would swiftly teach anyone the nuances of basic dialogue punctuation.

Quote:
"I am talking," said the guy. "Words are coming out of my mouth."
Quote:
"I am talking," said the guy, "and therefore words are coming out of my mouth."
Quote:
"I am talking!" said the guy.
Quote:
"Am I talking?" asked the guy.
The above quotes cover most things you'll ever need to worry about.

3. Needless first person

Most stories these days are written in third person limited or third person omniscient. Seeing as third person limited can (and often is) used to follow a single character, there's little need for first person in fiction – unless your story is written in a way that takes advantage of the format.

First person is a very personal and intimate style – every first person story is pretty much the protagonist telling the reader about the things they've done. To make the perspective work, first person stories have to be coloured by the narrator's biases and worldview, full of thoughts, asides and musings from the narrator and just generally personal and intimate. If you can replace every instance of "I" and "me" with a character's name and still have a coherent story, you're doing something wrong.

2. Needless present tense

Present tense is a powerful and unusual narrative style. There's a sense of immediacy and unpredictability in "we wait" that you just don't get with "we waited". Because many people tell anecdotes in the present tense ("So I'm walking down the street and I verb a noun…") you also get this informal, comfortable feeling that's not there with past tense. Present tense creates a specific atmosphere that's only appropriate under specific circumstances.

So you can imagine the wastefulness of a story written in present tense "just because", where the tense serves as nothing but a distraction and a worrying indicator of how few books the author has read in his/her life. Past tense is good and conventional and appropriate in most cases. It's a natural choice for narrative and should be the first option you consider.

1. Musical Names

Quote:
Firestormx sat on 64D's server, taking swigs from his hipflask. The site administrator was drunk.
HE HAS A NAME DAMNIT.

Quote:
F1ak3r managed to finished writing his newest blog entry before tiredness overtook the Computer Science student.
I HAVE A NAME DAMNIT.

The number one thing that irritates me in amateur writing is what Orson Scott Card has dubbed "Musical Names". It's the practice of being a hack author and subbing in a flowery and generally irrelevant description whenever you feel like you're overusing a character's name.

Names are invisible and pronouns are even more invisible. Ninety-five percent of the time, you can avoid distracting descriptors by just rearranging your sentences a bit and tossing in a pronoun or two.

*breathes deeply* That was fun. I'll post another blog soon… probably a happier one with less of an "everyone is an idiot except me" vibe to it.

F1ak3r

Comments

Kenon 12 years, 3 months ago

THE NUMBER ONE THING I HATE SEEING WHEN I'M READING

WORDS

THE NUMBER ONE THING I LOVE TO SEE WHEN I READ

BOOBS

Just sayin'