No matter how strong the tale, it’s only as strong as its writing. A basic tenet, but almost everyone forgets this. Emphasis on everyone. Most misguided stories don’t turn out to be poor tales at heart, but then again, you’d never know. Miring through the poor framing, the stilted narration, the repetitive structuring: it’s too much effort. When it comes to reading one’s writing, you shouldn’t have to pry a gem out of coal and mud.
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
Hi Writing All Wrong,
I’ve been working on a story about what I call an “isolated” hero. He’s been betrayed, so he basically feels like he’s redeeming himself by redeeming others. Anyway, I’ve let a few people read it. Some like it, but some don’t, so I want to get an objective, unbiased opinion. Here’s a selection of what I’ve written so far:
“Angelo. He was alone. Alone in the midst of other lonely people. He sharpened his blade with a leftover shard found on the dusty floor. His steel-blue eyes glared from the trusty weapon, reflecting confidence. He took a deep breath, sharpening away. Angelo sighed, kicking up dust. He’d waited long enough, and he’d have to wait longer still. He couldn’t bear the burden of his vengeance much longer.”
I’d like to get your opinion on it. Thank you.
—Dan Reed, Depoe Bay, Ore.
If you’re looking for objective, unbiased opinion, then you’re looking in the wrong place. The only thing that will provide that is a text analysis program, and even they have their biases. They’ve been notorious finicky when it comes to postmodern chick-lit, and they’re not as friendly toward hypertextual SF(surprise). Besides, that’s not what you need. You need help.
Let’s start with the first flaw: Angelo. Not inspiring. Not for this kind of story. Solution: call him Tangelo. I’ll help you out by referring to this protagonist as Tangelo from henceforth. You should do the same.
The next flaw: isolation. I can understand the beating in of the character’s loneliness, but unless you’re writing to the sub-preschool audience, it’s not necessary. “He was alone” is the weakest way to convey your idea. Reinforcing it by adding “(a)lone in the midst of other lonely people” contradicts with confusion. This isn’t stylistic panache; this is painful.
The flaw after next: anti-specific vagueness. I’ll be the first to admit that not everything needs a description in pinpoint. If you evade the IRS by jumping into the “river,” I can live with that. If you threw a “rock” at a wild jackalopotamus, then you needn’t describe further. But I’m going to call you out on “leftover shard.” Leftover from what? A battle? A previous weapon A prison meal? Is he even in a prison? And what kind of shard is this? Rock? Shale? Glass? Flint? Adamantium? It’s good practice to let the imaginative mind of the reader fill in the blanks, but it’s a malicious ruse when I have to draw those blanks myself.
Another major flaw: sentence structure. I don’t have the patience to point out everything else that’s wrong here, like the clichéd use of “taking a deep breath,” with the dovetail into hapless redundancy of “deep breath” and “sighed.” Stepping back, the paragraph becomes predictable with this pattern of “subject-verb,” “subject-verb,” and “subject-verb.” He sharpened. Eyes glared. He took a breath. He sighed. He waited. He’d have to wait. He couldn’t bear. Just kill me, please. Do it now.
The flawiest flaw: emptiness. Read this again. We’ve seen a hodgepodge of empty descriptions stitched together in a meaningless blur. Even outside the context, there’s nothing pulling me into Tangelo’s plight, nothing emphasizing what this soulless character feels, and nothing convincing me that any of this is worthwhile. We’ve got loneliness, vengeance, despair, and confidence all crammed in, making everything look like a poor series of ill-thought afterthoughts.
Sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and used as an effective C-C-C-Combo Breaker.