I was going to use this time to post a review of Terry Pratchett's The Nation, or talk about the animated adaption of Weird Sisters, or possibly get back to making fun of comics, but all that takes energy that I frankly do not have, what with grading some undergrad papers (I am going to staple Strunker and White to their foreheads I swear to god). Instead I am taking the time to do something like a public service announcement, which is not a selfless act in that I'm hoping that it will in the future help keep my eyes from bleeding.
So you all know that I read some truly horrifically bad books, right? Look, we've all picked up a book that was less than stellar quality and end up reading the entire thing out of morbid fascination, or in my case I read it for something to feel snarkily superior to. But, and this is a big but, I sometimes find myself actively seeking out horrible things to read of my own free will. There are days when I could either read a extremely tight paced story with beautiful language and fantastic dialogue and wonderful, insightful characterization or I could read something retarded about angel babies being hatched from eggs, and I am all over the egg hatched angels (I truly wish I was making the angel thing up, but I'm not. Don't ask. Seriously, don't.)
It's like being given a choice between the finest of Swiss chocolates made by a chocolatier that has spent his entire life working and training and preparing to make this one perfect batch of chocolates, one taste of which would make you weep in joy and gratitude that something like this could exist in the word, and a Twinkie and you choose the Twinkie. Worse still, this is not an either/an choice: you can have both the Twinkie and the transcendent chocolate, and yet you reply that, no, thanks, it looks good but the Twinkie filled you up and you feel no need to eat the chocolates.
That might have gotten away from me for a bit, but the point I was trying to make (before I made myself crave truffles) is that I have read some really awful things in my life and I feel it is my duty to offer advice to those young writers out there. And when I offer this advice you better take it because otherwise I may be forced to kill you. Just so you know.
1. For god's sake, keep your tenses consistent.
Seriously, if I have to read one more goddamn piece of fiction where the writer cannot keep the tenses straight for more than two sentence then I'm going to harness Alan Moore levels of bitter and blow something up.
Look, young and impressionable writers, most fiction is written in the past tense (commonly seen in words ending in -ed for those who are unsure), but you can also employ present if the fancy takes you, but don't switch between them. If you're having trouble keeping tenses straight find someone to look over your work and point out where you mix them up or I will find out where you sleep and come for you. Trust me when I say you do not want that.
2. There are point of views other than first
Try investing in some third omniscient or third limited. Please, I am begging you. If I have to read one more story with a whiny, self-indulgent narrator I'm going to snap and voluntarily search out plots involving magical angel babies being hatched from eggs. OH WAIT THAT'S ALREADY HAPPENED SEE WHAT YOU'VE DRIVEN ME TO.
In all seriousness, though, I understand that most new writers employ first because it seems the safer choice, but be aware of what you're trying to achieve in your narrative and what pov might suit it better, which leads me to:
3. Stick with one pov
This is mainly for those working in third person limited. I think there is some confusion between the difference between third person omniscient and third person limited. In third omniscient, the narrator knows everything that's going on, all the characters' thoughts, motivation, actions, ect. In third limited, the narrative is filtered through one specific character, meaning the reader has access to his/her motivation and thoughts, but not to other characters'.
A mistake a lot of young writers making, including me when I was but a wee lass, is that mid-scene you'll switch from third limited focused on character A to third limited focused on character B. Do not do that. It's true that some authors employ that switch, but they are considerably better at their craft than you. Many young writers make the switch clumsy and that throws the reader out of the narrative. If you're not sure if you switched povs then once again get a reader for your work for the love of Space Buddha.
4. It's okay to use the word "said"
It is. You can trust your Aunty Jayne on this. Yes, yes, I know what you've learned in school, that you don't want overuse the word and that you should employ synonyms. But here's the thing in fiction: said is one of those words that become invisible to the reader. They'll just gloss over it. What they won't gloss over is exclaims, demands, argues, and whatever else your thesauruses vomits up. Just stick with said.
5. The use of epithets
I can write an entire goddamn book on this, but in short, if the characters have names, which I'm assuming they do, use their goddamn names. If the reader knows them as John then there is no reason why you refer to him as "the blond" or "the surfer" or "the baker" or what-the-fuck-ever in the narrative when he has a fucking name.
Don't worry about being repetitive. Like the word said, character names become invisible pretty quickly and the reader won't suddenly stop and go, "You know what? I wish the writer would stop calling John by his name. I am so sick of reading it."
There are exceptions to this, like if you introduce character X and character A doesn't know his name and refers to him as "blond boy" or "thug one" or whatever. But as soon as the character has a name use it.
Sometimes in the text, it is okay to refer to a character by, for example, their profession. That will signify them pulling rank on another character or thatthey know what the hell they're doing. But only do that once or twice, not every other sentence. In short, USE THEIR GODDAMN NAME OR I WILL COME FOR YOU.
6. It's "come," not "cum."
Cum is not a word and you are not twelve. Grow up.
7. Cocks should never be weeping.
And no, I am not talking about the bird. Look, I am not about to step in and tell you if you should or should not use a sex scene in your story. What I am saying is that you damn well need to be aware of your language and description in sex scenes or you're going to end up with something that's not erotic but a giant messy ball of hilarious mess.
If you want your sex scene to be awkward then by all means make your narrative and descriptions as awkward as possible to get that across. But if you want your scene to be sexy and erotic then "his weeping cock" is not going to achieve that.
Yes, yes, I am aware that the phrase is referring to the pre-come and all that, but it just makes me think the penis is sad, and no penis should be sad when it's about to be laid. Also, you use "weeping cock" and I will make fun of you forever. Even more than the person with the magically hatching angel babies.
6. Be really aware of your descriptions
This is related to the above, in that you don't want your reader to suddenly start laughing during a dramatic scene because you whipped out a weeping cock.
For example, I was perfectly invested in one story until I came upon "his rock hard abs." Instead of responding with, "My, he is most definitely a ripped and sexy individual," I IMed my Hetero Lifemate this: "ROCK HARD ABS, HL. HE WAS HEWN FROM ROCK."
That led to this exchange:
HL: They made him from the finest granite.
Jayne: He has to be careful if he lays out on the sun, otherwise lizards come to soak up the heat from his granite abs.
HL: He is like geiko-nip.
Jayne: Though he does have to watch out for erosion, because god knows that in twenty, thirty years, his abs aren't going to be rock hard so much as mudslide.
So unless that's what you're aiming for, get someone to read your work over and point out anything that is ridiculous.
7. Learn what the word "literally" actually means.
You know what, let me help you with that. Literally is defined as: "adv. in the literal or strict sense; word for word; actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy; in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually."
That means when you say something literally happens it actually happened just like you said. This is not a hard concept, people.
Let's look at some ways to use the word in the most inaccurate way possible:
"His eyes literally burned with an emotion."
Unless he is Superman or Cyclops then his eyes were not actually burning with an emotion. If his eyes were smoldering from an emotion (although god only knows which one it is, since the author doesn't specify. Possibly he is bored) then this story would have been far more exciting then it was.
"They literally devoured each other's mouths."
If that was what was actually happening then this is not a sexy kiss scene but cannibalism and drastically different then what the writer was going for. However, if the writer wanted to properly use literally here then just make the two characters zombies and you're good to go.
An example of the proper use of literally: "People who misuse the word 'literal' make me literally want to concuss them with a volume of the Oxford English Dictionary."
I am fully aware that this list will not cure me of my self-loathing quest to consume my body weight in the literary equivalent of Twinkies, but hopefully some of you young writers out there will take this advice and save me the effort of finding you and beating you to death with the OED. Because I will do it. As soon as I finish reading about the baby angel breaking forth from its shell. Aw, it's so fluffy like a little chick!
Share us with others! Hooray sharing!