I dabble with the idea of having a Reading All Right week here, but I can’t quite make the stab. This post gets close.
Speaking of close, that reminds me: I tried reading a book the other day. Couldn’t do it. It was as if the writer beckoned me not to take him seriously, such was his degree of fail. And I’m not the only one. People won’t read what pains them to read right away.
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
I want people to read my book. What should I do?
—Brandt Bassett, Cadillac, Mich.
Sorry BranBass, the path to self-discovery is not given by one who is not oneself. While I won’t go into what keeps people reading your book, I’ll do you one better.
Here’s what’s going to close the door on people trying to read your book. Do these things in the first few pages, and you’re done. Book closed, back on the shelf.
“Avoid clichés like the plague.” Truer words may have been spoken, but the truth of that little cliché doesn’t ring as loud as it should. They stick out of your first pages like cankers, cold sores, and zits. Kill them all.
Pet words and phrases
If you like an uncommon word or phrase, and you brandy it about like it’s a word of common use, your reader will notice. A discerning reader will notice long enough to slam shut the book and whip their wallets and time at the more deserving. Found a great word plaything? Good for you! Stop using it over and over again right up front. Specificity. Vis-a-vis. All but [whatever]. Sinecure. Shut up.
If you describe your character by having him/her/it looking into a mirror, I will not read your book. You can do better than that. If you settle for the gimmick, I will settle for another work besides yours.
If I wanted a weather report, I would watch the Weather Channel. Unless your novel is about a meteorologist or weather conspiracies, then there’s no use for elaborating on the weather, unless you want to show off your lack of skills in opening a novel.
If you begin with your character waking up, he’d better be an insect, and you’d better be Franz Frickin’ Kafka. If “no” to both of the above, please rethink your tactic.
Yes, you must set some sort of stage eventually. But if I’m reading a story, and there’s no story—only a stage—then I’ll read something that is a story instead. Thank you.
Opening the opening
You know it when you see it. “Our story begins with a herped derp…” “This tale begins with some dumb something…” “Our narrative unfolds in a classic fairytale princess castle…” If you’re stating the obvious, I’m shutting the book, turning off the Kindle, or deleting the iBook then and there. Insult your reader’s ability at your own peril.
Please tell me you aren’t making these mistakes. If you’re going to make them, make them later on.
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).