Thursday, February 2, 2012

Writing Pet Peeves -- A Roundtable

For this week's round robin interview, let's take a peek behind the curtain and see what plagues the Wizard while he (or she) works.

What are you writing pet peeves that plague you from your own work?

Nancy Hansen: My biggest irritation is always my poor typing skills. My hands can't keep up with my brain. I'm also a very disorganized thinker. I do a lot of backspacing, retyping, cut & paste, and editing on-the-fly. In the end it looks good and I have less cleanup, but while I'm actively working it's aggravating because that all slows the pace down. The arthritis stiffness and some early carpal tunnel numbness just makes it more of a challenge.

Brent Chittenden: I'm terrible with endings. I'm strong with beginnings and middles but I suck at the end. I've worked at trying to plan them out better but I still need to get better at planning them.

Jim Beard: I tend to run out of room and have to pull off a "hurry up and end this thing" ending. I also can barely stand to go back and read through what I've written. I'm like "one draft, that's it." :)

Lance Stahlberg: Segues. I hate when I put a great ending on a scene and then I'm like "Well now what.

Krystal Rollins:
The ending for me is always hard. The book has to go out with a bang.

Bill Craig: Remembering new characters names from one chapter to the next.  Most of my books have ensemble casts, much like a tv show.  When I introduce someone new, remembering exactly what their name is or how it was spelled from one chapter to the next can be very challenging, especially since I have gotten older.

Van Allen Plexico:
To help with that, I keep a Notepad window open on the screen with all the characters' names, grouped by who is with whom at any given moment of the story.

Nancy Hansen: The character names I generally don't have trouble with remembering, but will often misspell them, especially in fantasy writing where there are special spellings. I've had to enter them in the word processor dictionary so that if I do misspell one it will flag it for me. I sometimes give little details like eye color, or height, and have to keep that consistent throughout too, since I use a lot of recurring characters. Over time I try and build a character dossier of pertinent facts I can refer back to. Emphasis on the 'try' part here...

I.A. Watson: Several.

1. FIXATION ON CERTAIN WORDS: When I think of a word I'm happy with it recurs several times in just a few paragraphs. If I'm not careful various different characters all "exclaim" or a place is depicted as gloomy in multiple descriptions.

2. CONFUSED SUBECTS AND OBJECTS: I have to watch for times when I know what I'm referring to but the sentence structure I've used suggests otherwise. For example. "He faced his enemy and spat on his face."

3. CREEPING CLICHÉS: I have to avoid people dangling like puppets, exploding like a volcano, and fighting like a tiger.

4. SHOWING OFF MY SOURCE MATERIAL: If I'm not careful I switch from narrative to lecture mode. The background is there to support the story, not interrupt or overwhelm it. There's a reason I resort to footnotes.

5. CLUMSY DIALOGUE HANDLING: I overuse the formula "xxxxx," he said, "xxxxx", where the first senternce preceded the attribution and the dialogue continues thereafter in the same sentence. I use the passive description too much in sentences like "This way," he called, dragging himself up the cliff face; better to say: "This way," he called. He dragged himself up the cliff face.

6. JUMPING IN MID-SCENE: Starting with a line of dialogue or with a key event can be a great way of ramping up the excitement or making the readers perk up to wonder what's happening now, but it can be overused. There are times when a workmanlike "The travellers reached the sealed gates by sundown" prevents readers being distracted by working out where the hell things have jumped to.

7. WORRYING ABOUT WHAT READERS OR EDITORS WILL SAY: I hate it when I try to second-guess responses and become a critic based not on what I think of my work but on what I think others will think of it. For example, I've just been writing more of my St. George and the Dragon novel. As one might expect it mentions and even discusses Christian themes. I worry that "religious talk" might put some readers -- an an editor -- off. I have to force myself to ignore those worries and do what feels artistically right; let the editor or the reader raise the objects later.