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December 15, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Eleven: The Lack of Sensory Detail

 22.Hubler.FrontDoorChristmas

This is the eleventh blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of various subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “The Lack of Sensory Detail,” a fiction mistake common with most beginners and takes some experience and skill to develop.

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

Baker’s Dozen: (Telling instead of showing)

The Lack of Sensory Detail

Perhaps you’ve heard this statement about some of your writing or about someone else’s poor example flashed across the Power Point screen at a writers’ conference: “This writing is FLAT!” If that’s the case, then that writing is lacking sensory detail. Excellent is the writing that places the reader right in the middle of the action, feeling as if he/she is actually that main character and experiencing a wealth of sensory perks.

If you analyze weak fiction writing, you’ll discover the authors have majored on only one of our human senses: sight, even when the other senses could easily be incorporated. Also, the “sight” sense might be presented so weakly with hardly any description, we then have very lazy writing. However, as writers mature and learn from experience, they’ll start to incorporate as many of the other senses as possible: hearing, smell, taste, and touch. With the addition of just a few more sentences or two, the writer can make his/her fiction jump off the page!

As usual, let’s analyze a few examples to prove my point. Take note of what senses are used in each example, either too sparingly or with skill to make the passage come alive.

Example One:

Flat Writing-

“I’ve had it, Bill!” Joan threw on her raincoat and rushed out of the house in anger, forgetting her umbrella. She ran to the car parked in the driveway, and when she tried to open the door, she remembered she left her keys in the kitchen. With the rain and sleet pelting down, she felt soaked to the bone from head to toe. When she ran back toward the house, she slipped and fell on the wet pavement.

“That’s what I get for leaving in a huff!” she grumbled to herself. She picked herself up and trudged back into the house, determined to apologize.

Incorporating Sensory Detail-

“I’ve had it, Bill!” Joan threw on her Sag Harbor black raincoat and rushed out of the house in anger, forgetting her umbrella. A mix of rain and sleet pelted down, instantly coating her long, blonde hair—her entire body—with a frigid chill. Still reeling from her fight with Bill, she took in several jagged breaths, the fresh, cold scent of an early spring shower filling her lungs. She paused a moment, gazing at her car in the driveway…debating whether she should get her umbrella or not.

“Oh, why bother?” she said. “I’m already soaked from head to toe.”

She ran to the car, and when she tried to open the door, she remembered she left her keys lying on the counter in the kitchen. As she ran toward the house, her high heels slipped on the icy pavement, and down she went with a hard smack on her backside.

“That’s what I get for leaving in a huff!” she grumbled. She gently picked herself up and edged her way back into the house, determined to eat humble pie.

Example Two:

Flat Writing-

Scrubbing a cooking pot at her sink, Louellen stared out her window. Snow was falling in her back yard. Her gaze shifted a short distance beyond the barn to her son John and his wife Katrina’s home. “I pray the ham will be tender as Alvira Kauffman promised. It sure smells good.”

Incorporating Sensory Detail-

“Katrina, just look at that snow! I pray everyone can make it to our Christmas dinner.” Scrubbing a cooking pot at her sink, Louellen stared out her window.  Snow was falling in buckets against the backdrop of her spacious back yard with two towering naked maple trees, the big red barn, and acres of dormant fields all shrouded in white. Her gaze shifted a short distance beyond the barn and paddock to where her son John and his wife Katrina’s home and barn were barely visible in the curtain of falling snow. She took a deep breath, the mouth-watering aroma of a baking ham infiltrating her senses. “And I pray the ham will be as tender as Alvira Kauffman promised. It sure smells good.”

Example Three:

Flat Writing-

The riders lined up their horses and looked at the waterfalls a bunch of yards away. Above their heads was water over some rocks. It tumbled on more rocks that were even with the riders. The water made big white splashes and then was smooth. The waterfall droplets and sunlight made a rainbow, and off to one side a little stream flowed down the mountain. A breeze made the waterfall mist fly everywhere, hitting the riders in the face. Skye was amazed.

Incorporating Sensory Detail-

 Lining up their horses, the riders sat gawking at nature’s water show half a football field away. Far above their heads, the falls flooded over a table of rocks arrayed on both sides by the greenest trees Skye had ever seen.

The water thundered as it crashed down over more layers of rocks, tumbling, tumbling, until it splashed onto large boulders level with the riders. There, billows of white foam faded into ripples that quickly smoothed into a serene pool as clear as glass.

A rainbow arched in a stream of sunlight. Off to one side the pool overflowed, forming the gushing stream that had found its way down the mountain to form Lackawanna Lake. Fed by the falls, a steady breeze and fine mist saturated the cool air around the riders, welcoming them to the secret and special place.

So, what do you think you can add to your manuscript to make it jump off the page and come alive for your readers? Think through the five senses, and don’t just rely on sight all the time.

Next time we’ll take a look at Mistake Number Twelve: Lack of Emotion or Action

Happy writing!

December 8, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Ten: Passive Verbs Instead of Active Verbs

 

This is the tenth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of various subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Passive Verbs Instead of Active Verbs,” a fiction mistake so common, even the most skilled and seasoned writers can fall into the passive voice or “being verb” trap.

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

Baker’s Dozen: (Telling instead of showing)

Am, are, is, was, were, be, been, will be, shall be…the most common list of passive verbs that are so easy to use, and abuse,  and make your manuscript move in slow motion. Passive verbs in the passive voice can sneak into any manuscript, which according to my laptop’s dictionary “indicate that the apparent subject of a verb is the person or thing undergoing, not performing, the action of the verb.”  In other words, the subject of the sentence is not doing the action. He/she, therefore, is, well, passive!  But a writer who is honing his craft will want to focus on action, action, action, and have that subject perform the action, not receive it.

Now let’s look at passive verbs in some sample sentences and then change them into active verbs, helping the sentence to come alive:

Example One -

Passive Voice: On Christmas Day, Sally was given a diamond ring by her fiancé Jeff.

Active Voice: On Christmas Day, Sally received a diamond ring from her fiancé Jeff. OR

(Change the subject) On Christmas Day, Jeff gave his fiancé, Sally, a diamond ring.

Example Two –

Passive: Twice a day, Frisky the poodle is walked by his owner Sam.

Active:  Twice a day, Sam walks his poodle Frisky.  OR

Twice a day, Frisky the poodle walks with his owner Sam.

Example Three –

Passive: Marcy thought she was given too much work to do by her mother.

Active:  Marcy thought her mother gave her too much work. OR

Marcy thought she worked too hard for her mother.

See how easy you can change a slow-moving sentence (and manuscript) into a story that “flows?”

Now, let’s discuss the flagrant misuse of passive verbs when they’re NOT in the passive voice. I would say this misuse is extremely prevalent in all manuscripts when writers are not careful, including experienced ones as well as beginners.

Passive verbs when not in passive voice are “legal” and are labeled as the progressive form/indicative mood (in past, present, and future tenses and in past perfect, present perfect, and future perfect tenses.)  We need not bore you with any other details and conjugation of any verbs, which might not help you a lick. (But if you’re interested, take a peek at this website: http://www.verbix.com/webverbix/English/learn.html ) The problem with these verbs is they slow down the action and can put your readers to sleep. There shouldn’t be more than one or two of these passive verbs per page in a well-written piece.

Let’s look at some samples of passive verb overkill and how the sentences can be changed to add more action and give the manuscript some oomph. Please take note that in the following sentences, the subjects are all doing the action in every sentence, but also notice which sentences have that oomph!

Example One –

Passive Verb: Fred will be taking his final exams next week.

Active Verb:  Fred will take his final exams next week.

Example Two

Passive Verb: The sun was shining brightly.

Active Verb:  The sun shone (or shined) brightly.

Example Three

Passive Verb:  The third grade students were looking forward to Christmas vacation.

Active Verb:   The third grade students looked forward to Christmas vacation.

Example Four -

Passive Verb:  George will be going on a trip to France in February.

Active Verb:   George will go on a trip to France in February.

Then last but not least, let’s look at a few sentences that use “being verbs” and are just considered lazy or bad writing (and such an easy habit to form):

Example One

Being Verb:  Sam was the tallest boy in the class and won the jumping contest.

Better:          Sam, the tallest boy in the class, won the jumping contest.

Example Two

Being Verb:  I am not excited at all about going to the dentist.

Better:           I dread going to the dentist.

Example Three -

Passive Verb:  Phil will be glad when this work day ends.

Better:             Phil can’t wait for this work day to end.

Example Four

Passive Verb:  Skiing down steep slopes is only for the young at heart and the foolish.

Better:  Only the young at heart and the foolish should ski down steep slopes.

Now, do yourself a favor and open the manuscript you’re working on. Do a word search and see how many times the nasty little passive (being) verbs pop up. Rephrase your sentences and try to limit these verbs to one or two a page. I think you’ll be amazed at how tight your writing will become and how much more appealing your story will be to your readers.

Next time we’ll take a look at Mistake Number Eleven: Lack of Sensory Detail

Happy writing!

 

December 1, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Nine: Redundancy

 

This is the ninth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of various subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Redundancy,” one of the easiest fiction writing traps into which we authors can fall.

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

Baker’s Dozen: (Telling instead of showing)

Let’s define redundancy. Encarta’s Dictionary in my WORD processing program tells us it’s “the use of a word or words whose meaning is already conveyed elsewhere in a passage, without a rhetorical purpose.” In other words, it means using the same words or thoughts repeatedly when not necessary. (I just gave you an example of redundancy.)

This fiction flaw is one of the easiest for an author, including myself, to abuse and not even realize it. Therefore, it behooves us to constantly edit our work, to look for redundant words or phrases, and to rewrite those sore spots in the manuscript.

As per my style, the best way to tell you about Fiction Mistake Number Nine is to show you what not to write and how to fix the problem. (Remember “Show not Tell”?) So let’s review six examples of lousy writing with redundancy to the hilt and how to rewrite each properly:

Example One:  At twelve p.m. noon, Jerry left on his trip.

Fixed : At noon, Jerry left on his trip. (Yes, twelve p.m. and noon are the same time.)

Believe it or not, one of these redundant phrases slipped through in one of my published books!

Example Two:   Rob is a person who is honest and makes it a practice never to lie.

Fixed:   Rob is an honest person. /OR/ Rob makes it a practice never to lie. (If Rob’s honest, he’s not a liar.)

Example Three:  Marcy rode her horse in a circle around the show ring.

Fixed:   Marcy rode her horse in a circle in the show ring. (“Circle” and “around” indicate the same action.)

Example Four:  Sadly, Third World countries often have many uneducated citizens, who’ve never attended school.

Fixed:  Sadly, Third World countries often have many uneducated citizens. /OR/ Sadly, Third World countries often have many citizens who’ve never attended school. (If they’re uneducated, they haven’t been to school.)

Example Five:  Jerry insisted that he saw the accident with his own eyes!

Fixed:  Jerry insisted that he saw the accident! (Could he have seen it with his ears?)

Example Six:  Billy’s mother watched as her little toddler counted a total of ten pennies.

Fixed:  Billy’s mother watched her toddler count ten pennies. (Let’s get rid of “as” first. Then ask yourself the question, “How many toddlers do you know who are big?” Delete “little.” And last, we don’t need “total of”.)

Now, we could go on and on, and on and on, and make a list a mile long of common redundant, reused words and errors, but by now, you’ve probably gotten the point. (Did you see any redundancy in my last sentence?) Yes, it’s quite easy to fill your manuscript with redundant words and phrases without blinking an eye. But once you get a handle on how tricky redundancy is, you’ll be able to rewrite your work and find that publisher who wants it much faster.

Next time, we’ll look at my Pet Peeve of all the errors—Mistake Number Ten: Passive Verbs instead of Active Verbs.

Happy writing!

November 17, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Eight: Impossible Resolutions

This is the eighth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Impossible Resolutions.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

H’m, impossible resolutions…. Maybe we need to define resolution before we go any farther. In my WORD dictionary in my computer, the word “resolution” has 13 different definitions, one which applies directly to writing. Definition number 11 states: “part of the narrative when the conflict is resolved.”

Now, I learned way back in third grade never to define a word with its own word. So let’s just say that our definition of “resolution,” for clarity’s sake, is coming to a satisfactory conclusion after the characters reach the climax of the story arc. But if the story has no satisfactory conclusion but rather has an impossible ending that frustrates the reader, we have a poorly written manuscript and a disappointed reader, who’ll never look up that author’s work again. And remember, a satisfactory conclusion doesn’t always mean a happy ending, but it has to fit with the story like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

So, what are the characteristics of an impossible resolution? Let’s discuss a few examples by first changing the endings of some classics or best-selling books (or movies) and analyzing how impossible these endings would have been:

LASSIE, COME HOME – what if Lassie never would have “come home?” What if he would have drowned?

GONE WITH THE WIND – what if Scarlet would have married Ashley?

THE WIZARD OF OZ – what if Dorothy would have stayed in Oz because she liked it better than “home?” She certainly loved her three comrades dearly.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL – what if Scrooge hadn’t reformed after the spirits visited him?

YOU’VE GOT MAIL – what if Joe Fox had decided not to pursue Kathleen Kelly because his father’s multiple marriages all ended in failure?

JURASSIC PARK – what if the main characters would have, somehow, killed the T-Rex, and the last scene would have the characters all standing around the dead T-Rex?

KING KONG (the original) – what if King Kong would have kidnapped the screaming babe one more time and would have tromped out of New York City, destroying everything in his path, and headed for the woods?

CAMELOT – what if Lance and Guenevere would have married each other, King Arthur would have forgiven them, and they all would have sat at a dinner table together in the last scene?

Well, you might say, all these books and movies could have ended as I’ve suggested. Not so. Not with the earlier parts of the script written the way they were. These endings would have been IMPOSSIBLE? But why?

Follow the beginning of the stories to the end as the conflict develops, as the tension increases in each, and as they reach the climax. The stories were written so you’d be rooting for a certain character to be successful (if a hero-type protagonist) or for a negative antagonist character to meet his/her just rewards at the end.

So why are we satisfied that King Kong met his death at the bottom of the Empire State Building but the T-rex in Jurassic Park wasn’t bumped off?

Although both are important primary characters, the sympathy in King Kong lies mostly with the screaming babe. Yes, King Kong does have his moments where the reader or viewer feels sorry for him but not so much that he could keep kidnapping the babe. It would have been too much for the reader/viewer to tolerate. It would have been an endless boring plot.

On the other hand, in Jurassic Park, the dinosaur is such a major player in the book and film, killing him off would have been very disappointing to the reader/viewer. And…another very important factor to consider is whether the book/movie has sequels. What would Jurassic Park’s sequels have been like without the gigantic T-rex that delights in eating people popping up every now and then?

Thus, to have these books/movies end as I’ve suggested, the entire manuscript would have to be rewritten with different tension, conflict, climax, and resolution. The primary characters in many cases would become secondary characters and vice versa.

Remember, everything that happens and everything the characters do in a story MUST work together like that gigantic jigsaw puzzle, all driving forward toward the climax and resolution, which must fit together perfectly on the last page. The story MUST center on the main characters, who either get their just reward or meet their doom at the end.

Next time, we’ll look at Mistake Number Nine: Redundancy.

Happy writing!

Today…

Marsha Hubler:

We salute our vets and we salute you, Charlie Bear!
Bailey and Skippy

Originally posted on Taylor's Tips:

Charlie Bear here.

What is today?

Charlie Bear with American Flag 009

Veterans Day. It’s our day to honor those who have helped to keep our country safe.

I especially appreciate that. Can you just imagine a place where you had to hide from attacks? Where you had to scrounge for food? Where you didn’t know where you would sleep at night?

Some of that is what I experienced in my formative first year on the streets in Los Angeles. I had to hide from big dogs who I thought were going to attack me. It’s what makes me bark so ferociously whenever I see them on the street. Hopefully they get scared of me before they decide to run up and attack me.

Then there’s the scrounging for food part. I had to look in all the dumpsters and trash cans I could climb into. Mostly, I foraged for leftover wrappers from fast food restaurants…

View original 179 more words

November 10, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Seven: Weak Transitions between Paragraphs

 

This is the seventh blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Weak Transitions between Paragraphs.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

If you’ve attended any writers’ conferences for any length of time, then you’ve probably heard this statement more than you care to recall: “Your manuscript must FLOW.” Okay, your manuscript must “flow.” Does that mean you have sad scenes that make your readers cry? Or happy scenes that make your readers laugh hysterically until the tears stream down their faces?

Really, making a manuscript “flow” has nothing to do with the actual storyline. Rather, it has to do with the author’s clever use of words and sentences, resulting in strong transitions between paragraphs and moving the scene forward. So what happens when a smooth transition is not feasible?  Then it’s time for a scene break or a new chapter.

As is my method to discuss fiction weaknesses, let’s look at some examples. We’ll analyze a few weak transitions and see how they can become strong transitions. (In case you haven’t noticed, I like to “show” not “tell.”)

Example One

Weak Transition

Homer read the hand-written note taped to the lid. “You always seemed to know what was important. That’s why I’m counting on you to take care of this for me.” And it was signed, “Jake.”

His mouth went dry and his ears grew hot when he lifted the cover. “Oh, God,” he prayed, closing his eyes. “Don’t let it be…let it be anything but—”

Well, his intentions had been good. Every year, like clockwork, he’d typed reminders into his daily planner: “Call Jake” on a January page. “Drop note to Jake” in June. “Jake’s b-day” every August, and “Send Jake’s Christmas card” in December.

Strong Transition

Homer read the hand-written note taped to the lid. “You always seemed to know what was important. That’s why I’m counting on you to take care of this for me.” And it was signed, “Jake.”

His mouth went dry and his ears grew hot when he lifted the cover. “Oh, God,” he prayed, closing his eyes. “Don’t let it be…let it be anything but—”

When he opened his eyes, Homer saw a golden wing tip, partially hidden beneath a layer of wrinkled white tissue. Hands trembling and heart knocking, Homer admitted what it meant:

Jake was dead. He never would have parted with the angel for any other reason.

(From “A Promise to Jake,” a short story by Loree Lough in MARSHA HUBLER’S HEART-WARMING CHRISTMAS STORIES, © 2014 Helping Hands Press, p. 19)

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Have you spotted what makes the first part of this sample a weak transition? The problem is between paragraph two and three.  Homer closes his eyes and prays. In the next paragraph , Homer’s intentions are discussed without addressing Homer’s closed eyes! Did he finish the scene with his eyes closed? Review again how Loree Lough handled the transition from the second to third paragraph. She opened Homer’s eyes and then continued with the scene.

Example Two

Weak Transition

Skye’s attention shifted to the barn and riding corral straight ahead. “I just can’t believe that serving the Lord could ever be like this. I mean, like, Morgan and me together in the same bunkhouse! And on top of that, Champ and Blaze could come too.” She glanced at the trailer hooked to the back of their truck.

“Did I hear my name?” a man’s voice called from inside the barn. A large door slid open, and a giant of a man walked out with a belly that looked like he had swallowed a watermelon—whole.

Strong Transition

Skye’s attention shifted to the barn and riding corral straight ahead. “I just can’t believe that serving the Lord could ever be like this. I mean, like, Morgan and me together in the same bunkhouse! And on top of that, Champ and Blaze could come too.” She glanced at the trailer hooked to the back of their truck.

Neigh-h-h! At the mention of his name, the sorrel Quarter Horse whinnied and pawed the trailer floor. Blaze nickered.

(From SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE by Marsha Hubler, © 2009 Zondervan, p. 10)

********************************************

What’s the obvious weak transition here between the paragraphs? When you read that first paragraph, it leads you to expect something to be said about the horses in the next paragraph. But in this weak transition, a man speaks, which at first, might make the reader think one of the horses is talking! In the actual strong transition example, the expected result of the good lead in the first paragraph is another paragraph about the horses in the trailer.

Example Three

Weak Transition

That evening, Nellie insisted that everyone sit down to have Christmas Eve supper together as Douglas seemed much better and had fallen asleep. Margaret placed a centerpiece of fresh greens on the table she and Nana had arranged, along with gold napkins folded into stars. George thanked God for the food and prayed for Douglas’s healing.

Nellie gave each of them a candle and turned out the lights while they sang “Silent Night.” Just as they finished, a bell tinkled from Douglas’s bedroom.

Strong Transition

That evening, Nellie insisted that everyone sit down to have Christmas Eve supper together as Douglas seemed much better and had fallen asleep. Margaret placed a centerpiece of fresh greens on the table she and Nana had arranged, along with gold napkins folded into stars. George thanked God for the food and prayed for Douglas’s healing.

After supper, Nellie gave each of them a candle and turned out the lights while they sang “Silent Night.” Just as they finished, a bell tinkled from Douglas’s bedroom.

 

(From “Hobby Horse Faith,” a short story by Patricia Souder in MARSHA HUBLER’S HEART-WARMING CHRISTMAS STORIES, © 2014 Helping Hands Press, p. 121)

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The difference between the weak and strong transitions in these two samples is as obvious as the nose on your face. In the first example, the very important transitional words “After supper” are not included. Thus, as you read that passage, it appears to the reader that Nellie gave everyone a candle, they turned out the lights, and they sang “Silent Night” at the supper table.

In the strong transition example, you can easily see how important those two little words “After supper” are to the flow of the story and the overall flow and tone of a good short story.

So, there you have three examples of weak and strong transitions. Take a look at your manuscript, especially the transitions between paragraphs. If your writing leaves the reader wondering what in the world is going on, then it’s time to rethink your “flow” and do some revising. The dots have to connect, even in a good piece of fiction.

Next time, we’ll look at Mistake Number Eight: Impossible Resolutions.

Happy writing!

October 27, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Six: No Significant Conflict

 

This is the sixth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “No Significant Conflict.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

There’s nothing more boring than a “slow” book. What do I mean by that? A slow book is one in which the plot never quite develops with significant conflict either within the primary character’s inner being or between the major characters. So, when should conflict arise?

If possible, on the first page or, at least, in the first chapter, preferably somewhere on the first few pages.

As an editor for a small press the last year or so, I’ve read quite a few manuscripts that have been submitted for consideration. I need to read only one to two pages to decide if I want to keep on. Why? There has to be a significant “hook” right up front to draw the reader into the character’s life and “issues.”

Today’s readers in our fast-paced society want a quick read. Oh, the book might be three hundred or more pages long, but the action starts on the first part and is non-stop until the very end. Gone are the days that an author needs to take five chapters to “explain” what’s going on. Have you ever heard this statement from a speaker at a writers’ conference, “Show, don’t tell”?

Fifty or a hundred years ago, much of our classic literature was written this way. Life moved at a slower pace, there were no computers, and going back farther there were no radios or TVs. What did folks do? They played table games or they read. So picking up a book that took the first sixty pages to describe the characters, their attitudes, and the world around them was really a ticket to an exciting adventure. But today, many classics from yesteryear are a difficult read because of the lack of continual dialogue and action.

So, how can we develop a story with significant conflict in the plot? Believe it or not, a skilled writer can take ANY idea and develop a page-turner.

Instead of my attempting to “tell” you how to do this, I’ll “show” you by comparing a few examples. We’ll look at boring ho-hum beginnings and then their significant conflict hooks to start the manuscript on the path to success:

Example One (Article):

Ho-hum : A while ago, I interviewed Clyde Peeling, the owner and curator of Reptiland in Allenwood, PA, on route 15 near Williamsport. Reptiland is loaded with all kinds of wild animals, including alligators, snakes, and other ugly creatures.

Significant conflict immediately:   How would you like a frozen mouse for lunch?  If you would, then join dozens of snakes, alligators, and other reptiles at Reptiland, a zoological park at Allenwood in central Pennsylvania.

(From “Lizard Man”- Boys’ Quest; Aug/Sept.02)

*************************************

Example Two (Short Story):

Ho-hum: My eight-year-old son had been sick for some time. We finally found out he had cancer and wouldn’t live much longer.   One thing he wanted to do was see snow, but we were having a warm autumn in central PA.

Significant conflict immediately:   “Dad, I-I want to see the first snow,” he said, forcing the words out with jagged, tired breath. “D-do you think I’ll see it, the way I am and all?”

“Colton, son, you’ll see it. I promise. We’ll see it together,” I assured him.

(From “First Snow” – Inside PA Mag. Dec. 08)

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Example Three: (Juvenile Fiction):

Ho-hum: Skye Nicholson found herself in juvenile court for the umpteenth time in her thirteen short years.  She sat in the chair and just stared at the judge. She was as mad as a hornet and in no mood to appease anybody.

Significant conflict immediately:   “Young lady—and I use that term loosely—I’m tired of your despicable behavior. I’m sending you to the Chesterfield Detention Center!”

Skye Nicholson looked cold as an ice cube as she slumped in the wooden chair and stared back at Judge Mitchell. Most thirteen-year-olds would have been scared to death as a hearing with an angry judge yelling at the top of his lungs. But Skye was no “ordinary” thirteen-year-old.”

(From A HORSE TO LOVE, Book 1 in the Keystone Stables Series – Zonderkidz; 2009)

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Example Four (Romance Fiction):

Ho-hum: As Louellen Friesen dusted the chandelier in the dining room, she lost her footing and slipped off the chair she was standing on and went sailing toward the table where Dr. McAndrew sat drinking his coffee.

Significant conflict immediately:  “Watch out!” Dr. McAndrew yelled, and in an instant, Louellen Friesen found her slender frame in the man’s embrace, his strong arms breaking the fall that would have landed her face first in his afternoon coffee.

(From Love Song for Louellen, vol. 3 in THE LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY AMISH/MENNONITE FICTION ROMANCE SERIES, Helping Hands Press; 2012)

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So, there you have four examples of developing conflict right on the first page, in fact, in the first few sentences. If you start your action immediately like these samples and keep it going by slowly building to your climax and ending with a dashing resolution at the end of your story, you’ll have yourself a page-turning manuscript and possibly a best seller. It’s important to remember that your use of exciting dialogue and excellent descriptive words in narration can make or break your story.

And above all, remember to show not tell!

Next time, we’ll take a look at Mistake Number Seven: Weak Transitions Between Paragraphs.

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