Today's guest poster is Amanda from Amanda's Wrinkled Pages. Amanda reached out to us during our call for guest posters. We hope you enjoy her words on "Keeping Your Writing Real...Not Really Boring."
So, you've written a short story or novel...yay, you! It's grammatically correct, historically accurate, shows not tells, and is incredibly...boring. Simply getting from A to Z in a coherent line does not a masterpiece make.
I've learned a lot from my editors' red ink over the years: #1) A piece is never really finished -- even after it's published, and #2) For goodness sake...take out the boring parts!
Number two may seem like a no-brainer, but when the words are flowing, it's sometimes hard to kill off your carefully crafted darlings. Yet, the last thing you want to hear from your readers is feedback so vague, you can't tell if they're talking about your work, or a pole-hopping porno thriller (unless...you know, that's what you wrote about). There's the non-committal, "It just didn't work for me." The kiss of death, "Yeah, it was, uh, good." Or, even a spirited, "WTH?!"
If you've heard similar comments, or if your beta readers are taking longer than a few weeks to muddle through (let's face it, if it was REALLY good, they'd stay up and finish it in one night) your piece may be in need of a serious over-haul.
A few areas to check on the dull writing meter...
A Misplaced Plot: You've thought up some really fascinating characters that you're able to present in a believable fashion: Say, a no-armed surgeon who also juggles and does a mean impersonation of Zsa Zsa Gabor. But, there has to be a story there: a want or motivation, a page-turning change, a journey or desire that the character seeks and that comes to fruition. If all you do is describe your characters at length, what you have is a character sketch -- not a story.
"What do you want to do today?"
"I don't know. What about you?"
"Whatever. You can decide."
"I'm not sure -- what were you thinking?"
I'm thinking I'd rather stick scissors in the skin between my thumb and pointer finger than continue reading. Does it sound like a real-life conversation? Unfortunately, yes. (Come listen to my teenage daughter and her friends sometime.) But, is this type of interaction interesting to a reader? Does it provide necessary information about the characters? Does it move the plot forward? Does it make you want to close the book? Answers should be No, No, No, and Hell, Yeah, drivel master! It's essential to tweak dialogue to be appealing to the reader, and ensure it supports plot and character growth.
Description Gone Wild: The forest was quiet this morning. The smoky haze of dawn's breath rose up in eerie silence. No sound babbled from the brook today -- its mouth was clenched in respectful anticipation. It was as if someone had arrived with the Sand Man's bag, and are you still reading this crapola?!
Yes, some description is necessary to your story. It provides depth, sense of place, and authenticity. Not to mention that sometimes it's just kick-ass fun. However, try to restrain yourself from going overboard with your own brilliance. In the example above, all you really need is the first sentence. Say it, and move on. Pages upon pages of description is hard on the eyes, and an open invitation to, "SKIM HERE!" And, once your reader starts frantically skimming, they may end up just skipping to the end.
Your "Novel" is a Thinly Veiled Memoir: Ugh! Wait...can I say "ugh!" again? Yes, your life experiences may mold what you write about. You may base characters off of true-life friends and acquaintances. You may base plot off of an occurrence in reality. But, if that's all you've got, you're simply writing a lazy, egocentric snooze fest. As agent, Janet Reid, recently responded on Query Shark; "That's the trouble with thinly veiled memoirs as novels: real life doesn't provide much plot."
If you've covered the points above (and edited until you've bled), hopefully, you'll find your readers racing to the finish line, instead of politely trudging onward. Strive to be authentic and engaging.
Grounding your reader in the story is important -- you want your writing to be real in the sense that it's believable and accessible even if it's about a fictitious world thousands of light years away. But, remember, real and boring are not synonymous.