Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Takeaways from WRiTE CLUB

I recently volunteered as a reader for WRiTE CLUB, which is a tournament-style writing event that pits 500-word writing samples against one another for eternal glory – or, you know, prizes. As a reader, I had to choose the top 30 entries from over 100 writing samples, and sometimes the choice was hard. Other times, though, there were things that stood out that made the decision easy – and not in a good way.

Don’t have the scene start with a character waking up. There’s a quote from The Office that is particularly relevant here: “When you recount your day, never say you woke up. It’s a waste of your time. That’s how every day’s begun, for everyone, since the dawn of man.” I mean, think about it – when someone asks what you did today, you never start with, “Well, I woke up…” The same goes for your writing, and this is especially true for your hook. The hook should be uniquely relevant to your main character in your plot in your setting, and it should make the reader want to keep reading.

Give the reader a reason to be sympathetic to your main character. Unlikeable MCs can be done well, but they need a redeeming feature, something that makes the reader root for them despite their unlikability. Maybe the MC is an alcoholic, but they have a sweet spot for kittens. Maybe they’re a stuck-up snob, but they have a great sense of self-deprecating humor. Whatever it is, the reader needs something to connect with that humanizes an otherwise bad person.

Be careful with dialect and languages. Dialect is tricky. Trying to capture the essence of spoken language in writing is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things to do. It’s what made Robert Burns famous, and H.P. Lovecraft infamous. When in doubt, it’s probably in your best interest to skip the dialect and instead mention it in dialogue tags (“I don’t think so,” he growled in a thick Scottish brogue). Similarly, if you’re writing something with a made-up language, try to limit the new words you use in your opening. Your reader is already entering a foreign world; adding a foreign language right off the bat can be too much. It’s like getting into a hot tub: you ease in, you don’t jump in right away.

Show, don’t tell. I know, it’s been said a million times, but based on how many times I gave this note, it can always be said once more. Here are two examples I whipped up based on a quote by Anton Checov:

  • The full moon shone bright in the sky above the burned-out house.
  • Moonlight glinted on a shower of broken glass, illuminating the house’s burned-out husk.

HUGE difference. Weave your descriptions into the narrative as much as you can so the plot can continue to move along even as information is being revealed. I like to think of it as tricking the reader into learning about my characters or setting when they really think they’re getting plot.

For the love of Cthulhu, don’t use “hmm.” Hmm, mmm, huh, and variations thereupon are a waste of precious word count, especially in your first couple pages. Yes, we say them when we’re talking out loud, but they’re exceedingly rare in print. There are other ways to indicate that a character is hesitating or taking a moment to think before they respond. 

And lastly…

Use one space after a period, not two. Using two spaces is no longer standard; this is a remnant from the typewriter days. (Don’t @ me, I have a Swiss Hermes Baby on my desk.) You can fix this with a simple “find-replace” in Word.

Best of luck with your revisions!

3 comments:

  1. EXCELLENT...excellent takeaways! Thank you again for participating this year. :)

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  2. Great feedback. I've read and voted on the 30 contenders, but never saw the others.I learnt a lot from others, including some of the comments - even though I was amazed some contenders survived bouts. Perhaps that's why I'm not a judge.

    I was a failed entrant; and on re-assessing the piece, the rejection was deserved on multiple accounts - but not all the above failings. [I posted it on my website - https://rolandclarke.com/2019/05/17/the-list-flash-fiction/ - but the lack of comments condemned it further.]

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  3. An eye-opening and informative post! Like Roland, I too didn't make the top 30 and am looking forward to reading the comments from some of the slush readers so that I can work on the pieces I submitted :)

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