Sometimes I’m asked to critique a story, or a scene in a novel, that, despite being well written, is somehow kind of bland. There may be nothing wrong with it – the author communicates clearly, and uses concrete detail, and writes strong dialogue, and deploys a consistent and appropriate point of view, and doesn’t clutter her prose with adjectives or adverbs, and yet, somehow, the story or scene doesn’t leap off the page – it’s dull. One option is to make the characters more distinctive, more idiosyncratic, more unusual. But very often the solution is to take the characters and their conflict and transpose them into a distinctive micro world.
Continuing our series on common writing problems, D.D. Johnston considers why some writers become over-reliant on describing facial expressions and fidgets. Every minute our bodies do a thousand little things: we smile and twitch and scratch and fidget and sniff and lick our lips and blink and breathe and blow hair from our eyes. When we’re writing, every sentence impresses on our readers’ valuable time, and reading about the minutiae of human movement is rarely a rewarding use of that time. Of course, sometimes people’s gestures are full of meaning, and this is the time to describe them. After watching the video, have a look at Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” in which Hemingway describes only a few expressions and gestures, and never describes them carelessly.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a final call for the Online Writing Tips short fiction prize. We are inviting short stories of between 2000 and 5000 words on any theme. The competition is open to writers based anywhere in the world, it pays cash prizes, and it’s completely free to enter. You’ve got to be in it to win it!
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.