I’ve come across a few “styles” since the beginning of this year that tick me off.
Of course, I should start with a disclaimer: I know I’m not a perfect writer. And because I’m not yet published, you may pretend I’m merely a reader. But as a reader, I’m allowed to have opinions and be annoyed at things. As long as I have the ability to back this up, my opinions care be valuable.
Let’s get to it. These are two things that have been ticking me off lately.
1) What is everyone’s obsession with eye color?
Profiles are important. There’s no doubt about this. We want to visualize each person in a scene, especially if that person is or will become important to the story. When a writer finds eye color to be more important than what’s going on in the scene, especially when there are over three characters present, I either lose sight of what’s going on or get everyone’s eyes mixed up.
“I really like this cake,” John said, taking a huge bite and smiling. His eyes were green.
In the above sample, eye color is an afterthought.
“I really like this cake,” John said. He took a huge bite, green eyes smiling.
I fixed it for you. Now we have some context. Now we can remember the color in relation to an action instead of trying to remember the color after it was awkwardly tacked onto the end. “But taking a bite backs up John’s statement about the cake,” you might say. No, the fact that John voiced his opinion makes it stronger. Watching how he smiles when he eats the cake backs up his statement.
When creative writing teachers tell you to be more descriptive, it doesn’t mean they want useless information. I have over twenty co-workers that I see every day, and I can’t recall the eye color of any of them. It’s not as important as their stature or vocal quality to me.
2) Please stop having your protagonist ask the reader what’s going to happen.
I’m hungry. Should I eat something? I could make a sandwich or eat the leftover pasta. Would a sandwich be as filling? If the pasta tasted bad yesterday, would it be worse today? Should I add better spices to the pasta or eat the sandwich more slowly so it can fill me better? Who else will eat the pasta if I don’t?
If you were a little frustrated by the speaker the end of that paragraph, welcome to the club. I’m aware these are supposed to be rhetorical questions, but it gets to a point where the more questions there are, the less I care about what happens. Go outside and eat dirt for all I care! If the speaker is contemplating a more complex problem, the questions he/she asks can potentially give away what ends up happening. When I’m not surprised by a story, I don’t usually find it it to be a good book.
Some authors might defend that the protagonist is asking these questions to him- or herself. Unless some actual answers are provided, I believe a paragraph such as the one above is evidence of the author running around going, “Hell if I know!” because they haven’t figured out their own plot yet.
I’m hungry. Should I eat now? A sandwich sounds good, but there’s a lot of leftover pasta in the fridge. A sandwich might not be as filling, but given how awful the pasta was yesterday I think I should stick with the tastier option. I try to think of what spices to add to the pasta that would overpower the awful rosemary and come up with nothing. I make myself a sandwich, planning to chew slowly so it fills me better. Someone else can take the leftovers.
That’s a little better. We see how the speaker comes to the conclusion to make a sandwich. Although I happen to love leftover pasta, I can agree with this decision based on the evidence provided.
I kid you not, I’ve read published fiction very similar to the first example in each point. I have also made these mistakes myself, and I’m working on them. This is why multiple drafts are so important. Each time you edit, you’re getting a more complete look of the protagonist’s thoughts and perceptions.
I’m hungry again. All that talk about food. Should I eat now? I’m looking around the room with my blue eyes.