With just over a week left to submit for the inaugural Online Writing Tips.Com short fiction prize, one of our judges, novelist and writing tutor D.D. Johnston, lets you in on some of his pet peeves.
Video transcript follows below:
- Characters who are in constant struggle with their facial expressions
He couldn’t help but smile
She fought to control the frown that was creasing her face.
- Inappropriate intensifiers and hyperbolic abstract nouns
Her perfume was ridiculously strong.
The train was unbelievably crowded.
Maybe if you boarded a train in London and it was packed like in one of those pictures you see of Indian trains from the 1960s, with people crammed on the roof and hanging out the doors and riding the blinds. Then you might be incredulous, right?
‘I love you,’ she said.
‘You’re not so bad yourself.’ He winked.
Does anyone under 65 still wink? Unless your protagonist is a 70-year-old former sailor with an outstanding sexual harassment charge, try not to have him wink.
There’s too much sighing in prose fiction. Everyone’s huffing and blowing. Enough air is produced to shift the gulf stream.
- Sentences in which the author tells us that a thing did not exert an influence, where there is no reason for us to expect that it would:
After the funeral she was left alone with her grief. The sheepskin rug underfoot did nothing to improve her mood.
- Inverted commas used to indicate anything other than dialogue, a title, or a quote:
Her ‘singing’ actually sounded like a dog having its testicles crushed in a car door.
There’s too much smiling in stories. We should know whether your characters are smiling from what they’re saying and doing.
- Weird or clichéd descriptions of crying:
He felt tears gathering behind his eyelids and crawling over his cheeks
People have been crying the same way for as long as language has existed, so that chances you’ll come up with a great new way to describe that are pretty slim. If someone absolutely has to cry then just say so as simply as possible.
- The word ‘Whilst’
A pompous word preserved in British English for no good reason. There isn’t much I agree with Martin Amis about, but he was right when he declared that ‘anyone who writes the word “whilst” is subliterate.’
- Any first person narrator who sounds like a grumpy blogger who has been through a divorce and has watched too much Jeremy Clarkson
People who are relentlessly negative and hacked off about trivial things are rather boring. This is crap and that’s crap and the music is rubbish and the beer tastes like piss and the barmaid’s ugly and the conversation’s boring and isn’t modern life awful.
That’s insincere, superficial, boring drivel. We all find beauty. We all must worship something. As Michel Houellebecq puts it at the end of Atomised:
Tortured, contradictory, individualistic, quarrelsome, the human race was capable of extraordinary violence, but nonetheless never quite abandoned a belief in love.
Thanks for watching and good luck with your writing.
The thumbnail for this video uses an image by Jake Davis. It is covered by a Creative Commons license, and you can find more of his work here: https://www.flickr.com/people/jakechristopher/. The video uses a sound effect that was recorded by Mike Koenig, which is also covered by a Creative Commons license.