December 29, 2014
Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts
Mistake Number Twelve: The Lack of Emotion or Action
This is the twelfth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of various subgenres. We’re finally coming to the end of this list and will do one more, a Baker’s Dozen Special, of what I believe are the most important common mistakes in fiction writing. Today we’ll look at “The Lack of Emotion or Action,” which is a bedfellow of last time’s topic, “The Lack of Sensory Detail.”
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
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 Emotion or Action
As with a manuscript that lacks sensory detail, a piece of fiction that lacks emotion or action is considered “flat writing.” The best place you can find perfect examples of this type of writing is probably lying on your sofa or on the floor at your computer station: the local newspaper. Besides the absence of any dialogue, newspaper article writing is as “flat” as a piece of wet cardboard run over by a semi.
You’d be surprised how many fiction manuscripts I’ve reviewed over the last year that read like last evening’s newspaper edition. One of the key elements in writing excellent fiction is incorporating lots of emotion or action in your story. A clever writer will give some “life” to those main characters by adding their feelings or having them move around a little. Although in real life, everyone’s universe does start at the breakfast table every morning, every scene shouldn’t open there. (What’s easier than writing a scene with everyone sitting at a table?)
So… let’s analyze a few fiction examples. Take note of what senses are used in each example, either too sparingly or with skill to make the passage come alive.
Tommy was afraid he wasn’t going to get the Monopoly game he wanted for Christmas. On Christmas morning, he slowly walked into the living room and sat in front of the rectangular box all wrapped in shiny red paper. He thought it looked like it could be that game he wanted so badly, so he picked it up and slowly opened it, almost afraid to do so.
Incorporating Emotion or Action–
All Tommy wanted for Christmas was a Monopoly game. On Christmas morning, he bounded down the stairs and tore into the living room. He trembled as he examined all the gifts, focusing on one box in shiny red paper that just HAD to be the Monopoly game.
“Mom, is that what I think it is?” His heart raced so fast, he thought it would crash through his chest.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Mom said. “Open it and see.”
As Mr. Chambers led the horse out of the barn, Skye studied the horse from head to tail. The horse’s coat was shiny, and his muscles rippled. His mane and tail blew in the breeze. Skye was really scared, but she also thought the horse was really pretty. Even though she was nervous, she decided she wanted to try to get to know the horse a lot better.
Incorporating Emotion or Action-
Out of the shadows came Mr. Chambers leading the sorrel gelding. Skye studied the horse from head to tail as the two approached. The morning sun bounced off his reddish-brown coat, making him look like he had been polished with expensive oil. Champ’s muscles rippled as he pranced, and his mane and tail whisked in the breeze. Scared as Skye was, she was overwhelmed by the beauty of this magnificent horse. Now, suddenly, her wobbly legs had some competition—a melting heart and half a will to at least try to get to know this gorgeous beast.
(From A HORSE TO LOVE, by Marsha Hubler, Zonderkidz 2009, p. 38)
Rodney watched Sharon, the love of his life from his past. Then he looked at the child she carried, supposedly his child. Once again he looked at Sharon, whom he hadn’t heard from in two years. She sat waiting for his response. Finally, he asked her, “If this is so, why haven’t you contacted me before?”
Incorporating Emotion or Action-
Rodney’s mind emptied of every rational thought as he studied Sharon, the love of his life from his past. Then he focused on the child—his child—supposedly. He forced his attention and shifted back on the gal he left behind and hadn’t heard from in two years….who sat waiting for his response. This has to be a mistake. Finally, his scrambled emotions let him speak. “If this is so, why have you never contacted me before?”
(From RHONDA FINDS TRUE LOVE, volume 5 in THE SNYDER COUNTY QUILTING BEE SERIES by Marsha Hubler, Helping Hands Press, 2014, p.9)
So, there you have three simple examples of how to get rid of all the flatbread in your writing and add a little pizzazz. Remember as you revise, it’s not what you write, it’s how you write it that either puts your readers to sleep or makes them want to turn the page to see what happens next.
Next time we’ll take a look at the last of what I believe are the most detrimental mistakes in fiction writing, Baker’s Dozen Mistake Number Thirteen: Telling Instead of Showing.