Monday, July 14, 2008

Beginning Writer Mistakes

STATUS: Tonight I’ll be back in Denver and ready to start my week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHAKE IT by Metro Station
(Can you tell I’ve been spending time with a 14 year old?)

Over the course of the year, I often participate in writer conference charity events where the prize is a read by yours truly. In other words, when I read for charity, Sara is not prescreening. Same with certain referrals sent my way.

Since the materials weren’t requested, I’m seeing sample pages from writers of various levels of ability, and with these unscreened pages, I see two very obvious beginning writer mistakes. Both of which could be easily fixed once the problem is pointed out and once the writer gets a little “formal” training regarding the writing process (either through a class or via a good critique group).

Here they are in case anyone reading this blog finds this remotely helpful.

1. The old adage still holds true. Show, don’t tell. In other words, newbie writers will often have a scene and then follow it with an explanation of the scene for the reader. Or, the newbie will simply explain what they want from the scene rather than write the scene well and let the scene speak for itself through character building, setting, and dialogue.

I will often see this in above average sample pages as well—in other words, writers are exhibiting a lot of expertise with a scene and then they can’t resist telling or offering an explanation! But as I mentioned, this is an easy aspect of writing to learn and fix.

2. Problems with dialogue. This issue exists on two levels. One, the newbie writer will include dialogue that doesn’t further the story, help the scene, or explore character. (in other words, the dialogue is pointless). Or two, the writer will have a bit of dialogue (and it can be well executed) and then there is a summary of what the reader should have gotten from the dialogue immediately thereafter.

These two issues will mark the writer as a newbie every time and with a little instructive teaching, can be tackled and resolved. As an agent, I don’t have time to go through and mark the manuscript to point this out. My assumption is that these key writing skills should be learned before querying the agent. It’s just a pass—sometimes with a comment referring to this but most often not.