Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Didn’t Make It Past Page Four:  Poor Writerly Choices for 99¢ eBooks

by Stella Atrium

I try to read books recommended by friends on GoodReads, although I’m continuously disappointed with eBooks for 99¢. Since I didn’t spend my lunch money on the book, it’s easier to set down the Kindle Fire and never return to that cover image on the bookshelf.

My genre is fantasy, and I’m forgiving for grammar when the magic or otherworld elements provide surprise; like Robin Hobb and dragon warming stations – too funny! But sometimes I don’t make it to the surprise, or even past page four. 

The reading has to go easy.  This is for fun, right?

1) Who is they, or he?  When I find myself tracking back through a dense description to identify who is speaking or acting, my patience evaporates.  There’s nothing wrong with repeating the character names.  If three characters are in dialogue, use their names!

2) Pronoun agreement counts.  “The soldiers reached for their swords” is correct.  “The hero wondered if their home was still intact” is incorrect.  This error signals that your text did not benefit from a round of proofreading. 

3) Leads in opening scene named Mark, Luke and John.  Name one Tres and another one Jessup.  Additionally, a smoldering look is NOT adequate character description.

4) Too many foreign names. Conversely, don’t hit the reader with the clan loyalties in the first chapter, like a pie in the face.  Dole out the structure of the society in layers like expensive truffles for nibbling.

5) Missing single point of view. The first chapter should be an action scene; readers expect that. Relate this scene from a single point of view, with a single emotive response – like fear or jealousy or expectation.  The other characters can display emotion in chapter two.

6) Physically impossible action. If the jetpack ignites underwater, I accept that.  If the jetpack propels the hero to the surface ahead of his bubble stream, I worry about getting the bends.

7) Clichés, and more clichés.  If you borrow from other writers twice before page four, you just lost me.  Think up your own magic tricks.

8) Sentence Variety.  “The hero entered the bright and warm room, carrying his heavy and dirty sword, looking for the funny and pretty heroine.”  I have a left and right brain headache now.  

9) Preteen with skills beyond her age.  Can a 14-year-old wield an 18-inch sword? Can she ride a horse into battle in full armor and win? 

10) Talking dragons, teenage vampires.  Embrace the next trend, not the previous trend that’s about to burn out (one hopes).

These are red flags that make the reader wonder about investing time in the next chapters of your story.  Respect the reader and don’t expect her to plow through these poor choices, even for 99¢. 


Ron Leighton said...

This is extremely fascinating and very funny. I loved it. And I say that knowing some of these might be for me! :)

Stella Atrium said...

Ron, I'm glad you enjoyed the rant. I tried to take a humorous approach because some writers find the question of grammar a sore point for criticism.

Thanks for sharing!

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