Like every other writer, I have a vault where I keep stories I’ve written that have never seen the light of day. Or maybe shouldn’t have seen the light of day. I recently blew the dust off a manuscript (koff koff), thinking this was one I could do something with. It was fan fiction and not half bad, as I recalled. Okay, way back when I wrote it I thought it was crash hot. Which is pretty good. I figured I could change a few names, tweak here and there, and maybe end up with a salable story. It would be fun.
So I opened up the doc and started to read.
And folks, it was AWFUL. Newbie writing 101 FAIL.
So… what was awful about it? Oh dear. Let me count the ways…
Look, when you’re critiquing, you’re supposed to find the good points first, so let’s get that out of the way. The plot was reasonable for what it was. Princess wants to avoid an arranged marriage so has a few adventures crossing the galaxy to a relo’s house, expecting to be safe. There, she meets a dishy alien admiral who was her dead husband’s CO. Sparks fly. He keeps her safe. The end. The spelling was spot on and the grammar obeyed the rules.
Point of view
What possessed me to think we needed her father’s POV? It’s easy enough to establish he’s a conniving prick from her POV. And why do we need the little cameos between daddy and the jilted suitor? We’ll find out the baddies are chasing her soon enough. (In her defence, the writer probably thought she needed to warn the reader that Mary wasn’t safe, and that it wasn’t daddy’s men chasing her, it was the other dude’s. To which this critiquer replies, ‘so what’?)
Demanded, retorted, commanded yada yada yada. Use the dialogue to convey the tone. And what’s wrong with this? ‘Mary slammed the papers on the table. “You can’t be serious,” she said.’ (If you guessed we don’t need that ‘she said’, give yourself an elephant stamp.) Tags are best avoided when possible.
Why use ‘was walking’ when ‘walked’ will do? Sometimes the ‘was …ing’ construction is fine. There are times you want to slow down the action. But if you use that construction too much it becomes a repeating pattern which intrudes on the reader.
See ‘show don’t tell’ further down the page. Adverbs have their place but often they can be avoided by using stronger verbs. eg ‘ran quickly’ vs ‘sprinted’. (Really, I’ve seen much worse examples of overuse of adverbs than this one, but a little bit more editing would have helped.)
!! ?? nuff said.
Oh dear. Infodump after infodump. Sometimes a story needs a bit of narrative, but not too much and not at all if it isn’t needed to move the plot forward. (Between you and me, I think this author got a bit full of herself, writing unnecessary padding to get the word count up.)
See above. We don’t need a plant by plant description of the garden if it’s just a backdrop for a tea party. If it had some significance, like baddies hiding behind tree trunks, or drop bears in the branches, sure. Red pen.
Even in erotica (which this ain’t) penis, testicles and vagina are implied, rather than named. Ick.
Show don’t tell
This writer just hadn’t got the message. Well, sort of (see excessive description) but that’s not what ‘show don’t tell’ is about. ‘Mary slammed the papers on the table. “You can’t be serious.”’ That’s showing. ‘Putting the papers on the table, Mary said, “You can’t be serious!”’ That’s telling. The author has informed us that Mary is angry. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have known.
Yes, I have turned that plot into a not half bad original story. Essentially, I rewrote it, using what skills I’ve developed in the process of writing nine novels. (This story was written before I wrote my first book.) The story retains the bare bones of the original plot, but that’s about it. I was very conscious of the fact that this started life as fan fiction. The advantage in that case is that the universe in which it was set is well known, as are some of the characters. Once I changed the setting to a universe and characters of my own making, I had to do the work to make them real and believable.
In fact, the end result was good enough for my editor to suggest I extend it into a novella so more of the male MC’s character could be revealed. He is strong, in command, but with some vulnerability which I think makes him more sympathetic. The heroine is now a lot more assertive. She was never quite a hand-wringer, but in this version she knows what she wants. (And she gets it. Snigger)
A Matter of Trust will be coming to an ebook merchant near you, sometime down the track.
And what have I learned from this exercise? Practice makes a *lot* of difference. If you want to be a writer, write. You WILL improve your craft.