Saturday, July 25, 2009

Avoid Flooding in Your Work

Last Saturday, I woke up to the sound of dripping water, no, pouring water, splashing, definitely making something very, very wet in my basement. It was raining, so I thought water was coming in through the windows. Oh no. That would have been good news. The water heater decided to expunge its contents onto the floor, leaving me with a two-inch pond to clean up. Not fun! But not that bad either. Many people have lost their entire homes and even loved ones and pets in real floods, so, in perspective, 40 gallons of water or there-abouts is really not that tear-worthy. Just a pain in the butt.

Now, exactly a week later, after my husband tried to keep the old one hanging on but lost in the fight, we have a new tank. Fourteen bucks to rent one from the gas company a month is totally doable.

When you're writing long fiction, sometimes things can flood your work and create gloppy bogs. Here is a list of things to avoid, especially if you're a unpublished newbie.

The prologue that explains things in order for readers to understand the story. A prologue, if there is one, should just hint at something weird, entice, or maybe it can be a short view into a time outside of your main story. Melissa Marr in Wicked Lovely has a great one and Frank Perritti in The Visitation. They're short, somewhat weird, they set the tone and they pull readers in. You're prologue should do this. Hint. Foreshadow. Parallel. Show something vitally important. Don't info dump.

The exposition landslide. You don't have to give buckets of backstory and information at the onset. Just start your story where your story starts, which does not necessarily have to be an action sequence, but it does need to be close to the dawning of your story question. Your story question is what hooks readers. Will she find escape from her abusive, alien ex-husband? Will they catch this psycho killer who is expressing Beatles tunes with dead bodies and creative crime scenes? Find your question and make it obvious what your story's about in chapter one. Give readers something to care about and latch on to.

Strange punctuation and hacked words to denote dialect. In bits and pieces or for minor characters, it's okay, but throughout a novel, it can be very tiresome for the reader. Instead, try and use terms and phrases common to the area of origin.

Too much telling. The demand to show not tell is drilled into writers' heads because it's so important to vivid, engaging storytelling. So when you can, show.

Too many adverbs. They have their place, but often times you can find a strong verb to say what a verb-adverb combo does. So look around, check the thesaurus, stretch.

Purple prose. Flowery, poetic writing, though it sounds nice, often draws more attention to the author. Purple prose can come out as excessive description and sweeping love scenes that bring amusement parks rides and sparkling clouds into sexual responses. You can certainly be lyrical, you can use a FEW precious violets, but avoid waves and waves of heather. It can be cool, if you use it with intent to paint contrast, a lush landscape now tainted by the presence of a dark character. But purple for the sake of drowning readers in lovely words? No. Nix that junk post haste.

Draggy dialogue. The draggiest dialogue is not dialogue at all. It's conversation that has no business being in the story. If it doesn't advance the plot, add more depth to the story or reveal character, either rewrite it so it's more vital or get rid of it. And don't allow characters to unnaturally discuss things for the benefit of the reader. Some Sci-fi writers do this so we understand the society, rules or time and place. Show how things work and are instead.

Dull verbs. Need I say more? Punchy verbs are important for making your voice stand out, so look for some gems.

Avoid those book flooders and make your work shine. You can do it.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.


  1. Nice job of getting a fairly mundane DIY story worked back around to your topical matter and tying it all together so neatly. Gosh, you must be a writer or something. ;)

    Great post, Courtney.

  2. Thanks. And I worked in the word "list" too. I am a crafty soul.

  3. Good points all, but I especially applaud the advice on prologues. More often than not, prologues simply don't work - and yet young writer after young writer insists on slapping them on the fronts of their novels!

  4. stranglingmymuseJuly 30, 2009 at 2:46 PM

    Nice post, and good advice! You and I really think alike, Courtney. I wrote this post relating writing techniques to eating leftovers with my husband when our kitchen disappeared during a remodeling!
    --Sandy Ackers
    Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World

  5. Thanks, Katie. I've read plenty of sludgy prologues that just don't work. That's what prompted me to include it.

  6. Thank you for commenting. I'll check it out. I think my best posts include a little bit of real life drama.

  7. I hate an opening that drags on before finally get around to the question. That's my biggest pet peeve.

    I'm guilty of purple prose!!


    Excellent site. There's some really helpful information here.

  8. Thanks so much. I'm glad you're enjoying the site.