Continuing my series of advice for writers. If you do not know, I am an editor for 01 Publishing, and have been doing story critics for years. One of the best tools I have ever come across on what NOT to do for a story is the Turkey Day Lexicon created by some of the best names in literature. But, no list is ever complete and here are some of my humble additions as well as the ones posted previously. You can also read the ones contributed by my husband on his blog at JoshFinney.com
Please keep in mind that I do not mean this to be a NEVER use list. Simply a USE ONLY BY PROFESSIONALS list.
Even Dead People Know What’s About to Happen – When a writer’s set up for what is about to happen is so obvious that all hope of suspense is lost. It’s the equivilant of yelling at the girl in the movie to not go into a room because you and everyone else (including dead people) already know the killer is in there.
Packing Peanuts – padding in the form of long monologues or descriptions that stretch out a scene in an attempt to draw out tension, suspense, or interest. In film, this can take place in the form of long shots of people looking at something off camera, shots of nothing happening while spooky music plays, shots of characters showing different types of emotion for longer that five seconds, and titillation for no reason other than to give the audience something sexy to look at.
In short: It is the fluff in between the important stuff that more often than not is useless and gets in the way of the story. For a beautiful illustration of this I suggest you watch the movie Screaming Scull. This movie also illustrates the Info Dump. If you don’t have time to watch the full film, start at the 24:00 mark to the 35:50. Yes. Nearly 11 minutes of an hour long film is nothing but packing peanuts. CLICK HERE to watch the film on YouTube
Info Dump – When things like Backstory and Plot Exposition are dumped on the reader in one large obvious chunk with no hint at an attempt to blend it into the narrative. Usually this is done by two types of writers.
- The writer not skilled enough in their craft to work it into the narrative so that it is seamless. All writers go through this period and it only takes practice to work it out.
- The author is in a hurry to “get to the good stuff” and doesn’t want to spend the time to blend it all in.
To illustrate this I suggest you watch Terror from the Year 5000 as presented by Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s a beautifully awful movie and I highly suggest you watch the whole thing, but for the purpose of this entry, start at the 8:24 and go till the 9:55
Character Driven vs. Plot – Spending so much time on your characters that plot is ignored. This has become a popular mode of story telling in television for almost a full decade now and I’m here to tell you, it’s a bad way to tell stories. I am a strong supporter of stories that are character driven, as long as they are driven to advance the plot. Without a coherent plot you have no story. A story has a clear begining, middle, and end. Making things up as you build your characters does not cut it. If you start your story not knowing:
- Where your characters are at the begining
- Where they are going
- How it will all end
…then you have failed as a story teller.