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Readers are merciless… don’t go in there without ammunition.

February 20, 2011

I have a warning for any would-be writer that might read this. No matter how good you are at what you do, the first time you walk out onto the stage, people are going to start booing. Loudly. Maybe even toss some oranges or something. It’s gonna sting, at the very least.

Just accept that. For one, there are people out there who set up in the business of criticizing. Reasons are many; their own failures, jealousy, general anger, you name it. But, for that moment, it’s aimed right at your face and it’s going to sting.

If you accept that, you can push through it. You can win your crowd. And one thing I’ve learned by accident is that it isn’t even as much about how magically you are able to lace words together as much as it is about avoiding mistakes. I hate rules, but I do belong to that lot that believes you should know the rules before you start breaking them (because, then, you can break them with admirable style and intent to create, rather than just wreck, form).

What are those things to avoid? There are a million of them. On absolutewrite.com, we started a discussion about what irks writers when reading (not your average reader, granted; quite critical in comparison) and I found some common complaints.

Don’t let your ego stand in the way of your story. Don’t praise yourself. Don’t ever let your words draw attention to your skill–making a reader pause while reading to think about whoever wrote the story they are reading–instead of just letting them run away, escape, disappear into the land of your story. Don’t do cliches in any form. Literal cliches (It was a dark and stormy night… He got what was coming to him… and they lived happily…), stereotypical cliches (the lead woman doesn’t have to be a leather-clad bitch with a black-belt in whack-yo-ass to be strong… not all black people like chicken… not all white people are dorks…), or even descriptive cliches (her hair was a flowing waterfall… her eyes were a well of darkness…).

Give your readers something new, but familiar enough to digest (don’t hear me wrong; you wanna go way out? Wanna go for all-new, zero-familiar? You can win doing this, definitely… just harder to grab a large audience unless you really do it well). Give them a full disconnection from you, the author, and a total connection to your story and characters. Don’t hear this like I’m coming up with it; hell, I gotta learn this stuff myself as a writer, but this is what people are saying. This is what readers are wanting and what they are not wanting. Give them believable without boring them. Give them zero cliche anything. Give them a reason to pick up your next piece. Give them hope that we writers haven’t fallen into a Venus Flytrap of mundane repetition born of formulas and pre-fabricated constructs… shake it up.

My 2.

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2 Comments
  1. I hear ya. 🙂 When you talked about leather-clad bitches doing the whoop-yer-ass thing, it reminded me of why I've soured on urban fantasy.The first couple of urban fantasies I read weren't like that. Now it seems they're all that way. Drives me nuts! I refuse to read any more urban fantasy that has leather-clad babes with whoop-ass powers.

  2. I hear you, Nancy. I haven't read many of those; just reporting what I've observed others complaining about. We need more Fourth-Grade Nothings!

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