Don't Write This

Though my own writing impulse is lost in some psychic abyss, I still find it quite easy to identify the things I don't like in writing or the mistakes you can make in a story. Here's a short list:

1. Having a first person narrator who turns out to be dead at the end. Like, the last line is: "And then he shot me dead..." Or, "And that's how I died that day." Because, really, how are you telling the story then?

2. Cramming 15 characters into a ten page story like this: "Tommy opened the door. 'Hi, Timmy,' he said. Tony was in the kitchen, blending the drinks with Rich. 'Come on in,' called Joe from the living room where he was playing cards with Jack, Jim, Todd, and Dan. 'Sam called,' announced the man with the blue suit from the top of the stairs. The dog, Jeff, barked. 'We're in for it now,' said a familiar voice."

3. Anything that's too directly derivative, like the fake writing exercise I did the other day after reading too much Joyce Carol Oates: "Mommy's singing again in that high-pitched ghostly voice like a train whistle in the night. She sings and sways in her white nightgown in the kitchen, her eyes shut tight as if against some bright light. Then she pulls me close, her breath hot and sweet on my neck. Daddy's gone. Where did Daddy go? Gone. Gone. Gone. Long gone now and there will be no blue pick-up in the drive way, country music blues bleeding from the windows, waking us up at night, his big loud wolf voice howling, Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in!"

4. And this is perhaps personal preference, but for literary fiction, don't submit fantasy or sci-fi. That means your story can't contain any elves or unicorns or hobbits or dragons or swords or elves on dragons with swords chasing unicorn-riding hobbits.

5. Not a big fan of the "crazy narrator" story. Unreliable: fine. Nutso: no good. That's really really hard to pull off and so it usually just sounds fake and stupid and often ends with some kind of cliche like the narrator making plans to escape his padded cell.

6. Third person stories where the point of view shifts for seemingly no reason. I haven't come up with an example because it's more subtle and takes longer to see. What happens is that you'll be reading a story and think that it's third-person limited (b/c that's how it's told for the first 10 pages), and then suddenly, you'll get a random interior thought from a periphery character; often one that doesn't really impact the story and so that's even more confusing.

7. You're also not supposed to write stories about writers, or about cancer, or about break-ups or about mental illness and I have tried to write all of those stories.

8. Bad nonfiction masquerading as fiction. Often easily distinguished as there are no real descriptions, lots of telling rather than showing, and a lack of the kind of deviation from the "truth" that would make the story better.

9. Stories where the narrator is an inanimate object or an animal. Luke was telling us this weekend about a girl in one of his workshops who was writing a novel told from the point of view of a tree. This was from the same girl who turned in a story called "Sweat Beads;" referencing the sweat between the breasts of the female character. She was from another county and often used auto translate before turning in her work, which led to sentences like, "We were windowing him like you and saw him philandering with her."

10. Not really interested in sound effects in writing.

More bad writing from bad writing contests:

"Her breasts were like ripe strawberries, but much bigger, a completely different color, not as bumpy, and without the little green things on top."

"Rain -- violent torrents of it, rain like fetid water from a God-sized pot of pasta strained through a sky-wide colander, rain as Noah knew it, flaying the shuddering trees, whipping the whitecapped waters, violating the sodden firmament, purging purity and filth alike from the land, rain without mercy, without surcease, incontinent rain, turning to intermittent showers overnight with partial clearing Tuesday."

"Through the gathering gloom of a late-October afternoon, along the greasy, cracking paving-stones slick from the sputum of the sky, Stanley Ruddlethorp wearily trudged up the hill from the cemetery where his wife, sister, brother, and three children were all buried, and forced open the door of his decaying house, blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that was soon to devastate his life."

And this is my new favorite artists/comic person that Luke introduced me to this weekend, Don Nace. Soft Skull published his book, Drawn Out. Amazing and horrible and distressing and funny.


Drew said…
#9 -- Next time you're at the library, pick up and read I am a cat by Natsume Soseki. It's narrated and written in the point of view of a Japanese cat during the Meiji period at the beginning of the 20th century. It's considered a classic in Japanese literature. If you love cats and you love books, you'll love the combination of the two. It's almost as good as chocolate and peanut butter.