Monday, March 3, 2014

Just plain bad writing

Oh-oh...Get the chocolate. Some of you are quaking right now because I just said the words we all fear...Just plain bad writing.

What is bad writing? Our first thought is poorly crafted sentences, bad grammar. And that's true. But bad scenes, poorly written scenes, poorly structured scenes, scenes in the wrong order...are also bad writing. No matter how good your story, poorly written scenes will kill your book.

I'm reading a book right now that has a wonderful premise, a wonderful story. But the writer overuses similes. So much so that it's hard to get through a scene. It's like walking through knee-deep oatmeal.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Her information in the scene comes out oddly. There are times when I almost feel her stop the scene and say, Oh, wait! You need to know this. Had the scene been structured differently, or a different scene chosen that SHOWED US  that information, there would have been no unnecessary "stop the presses" scenes. The scene would have flowed...

And this is where I think authors truly need the power of a good editor. They see those "stop! I need to tell you this!" paragraphs, and instruct the author to pick another scene, one that gets the information in seamlessly.

Writing a first scene is like inviting someone into your house. When they're on your porch, they aren't inside. If you make them stand in the foyer, they see some things...maybe everything, if you have an open floor plan, LOL, but they aren't inside.

If you say, "Come in," then invite them to sit on  your sofa or a stool at your breakfast bar, they are truly inside.

That's what a good scene should do. Invite them inside. Not leave them in the foyer while you EXPLAIN or tell them that you have a kitchen. The scene should bring them inside so they can SEE your kitchen.

Most of us don't know how to cut to the chase. To get our characters off the porch, or even into the foyer. We dance around with action or backstory (and btw Harlequin Romance readers love to get tons of backstory in the first three pages...I think we might be the exception to this rule! LOL)

Anyway, we dance around with action and backstory and description and leave readers on the porch or in the foyer, looking in....knowing there's a kitchen or a living room, because we tell them there is one...but not quite able to experience it for themselves.

So how do you get your readers off the porch or out of the foyer? You invite them in.

And how do you invite them in?

Once again...there isn't a "formula" but there are some first scene, first chapter things you can do.

The most important is ...Figure out the real PURPOSE of the scene.

I've jabbered on and on about journey steps in these Monday morning blogs. So most of you know the first scene should manifest the first journey step. That step or scene needs to start an action that sets off a chain of events, introduce the characters -- who they are at the minute the book opens so that readers can see the progression of change to who they will be at the end of the story -- and tell people CLEARLY what kind of story you're writing.

That last one sounds simplistic, but have you ever read a book that stared with a cute meet of a hero and heroine only to have it be a straight suspense...with no romance in the book? Or a book that begins at a murder scene only to segue into a romance?

That's such a no-no there aren't a lot of them around! Editors know better! But also readers judge books by the first five pages. If a suspense reader flips open a book to find a cute meet, they'd don't buy that book...That's why your first scene must clearly SHOW readers which kind of book they are getting.

Anyway, I'm losing focus...

My point is...You need to choose an opening for your book that does all three things and does them in such a way that the actions flow and make sense. If you have to over explain, you're not flowing.

Which all boils down to KNOWING THE POINT of that first scene. Why did you choose that scene to open your book? What ACTION really starts this story?

In THE BABY PROJECT, I start the book with the heroine and her dad talking. He isn't just her dad. He's also her boss, and they're about to read the will of the father of three brothers, who don't like each other because they all have different moms. But the heroine is also in the will as guardian for a fourth brother, a baby, that the original brothers don't know about. Why start it there? BEFORE the will reading and not DURING the will reading? Because the heroine had a baby who died and her father isn't sure she can handle being guardian of a baby, living with him, caring for him. Dad needs to know BEFORE he drags those older brothers into the situation, that she can care for this child.

And she's not sure she can, but she can't admit this to her dad, who had threatened to send her back to therapy. She's tired of everyone thinking she's just shy of crazy, but also knows her dad is right. If she can't do this...there's trouble in her life that she has to deal with. She has to handle this.

Not only do I not have to explain this poor heroine is still grieving her child because her dad pins her to the wall and says, "Can you handle this?" but also I don't have to explain that this baby, a fourth brother, is going to cause trouble. So when those brothers walk in, everybody's on the edge of their chairs, knowing we've got a tense revelation coming up and also feeling for the heroine who has to be part of it.

From there, the book flows.

If you choose the correct scene to start your story, you won't have to worry about flow or bumps or too much explanation necessary to show readers why something is happening...your scene building blocks will line up just fine.

So if you're having trouble making your first scene work, if it doesn't flow, if you have to keep going back adding in explanations, consider the purpose of your first scene...

Introduce character
Tell us what kind of book we're getting
Start off a chain of events with action

If your book's not flowing, if you have too much explanation, (which really translates to telling) you might have chosen the wrong scene.

Happy Monday and Happy Reading...

susan meier

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