First, let me apologize for not writing a blog last week and for this one being late. Today we moved our web hosting to a new service. Amazingly, the web site is up and I seem to have email…
Recently the staff at Divertir Publishing have been discussing what our short story collections will be for next year. One theme I’m interested in trying is a book of local authors. So last week I dared to venture out and attend a local writer’s group meeting. You’ll be happy to know I made it out relatively unharmed and only one person asked “Who are you and why are you here?” As I sat listening to them critique each other’s work, I started thinking about some of the issues I see most often with the manuscripts I review. So for the next few blogs I wanted share my opinion about what these common issues are.
Ambiguous pronouns. If I had to pick the most common issue I see when reviewing manuscripts, this would be it. Consider the following sentence:
Jack and Jill went up the hill to meet Bobby, where she began to hit on him.
So who is Jill hitting on? I think there are two reasons this is such a common problem. First, writers are told it is considered poor writing to repeat the same word too many times. Thus, they will often substitute pronouns for proper names even if it might be ambiguous who the pronoun refers to. Second, because it is clear to the writer who a pronoun refers to, they assume it will also be clear to the reader. Someone might say that, because she went up the hill with Jack, it is implied Jack is the recipient of her affection. But, as a writer, you can’t assume your readers will make that same leap. In fact the above sentence is even more confusing; Bobby can be short for Robert or Barbara, so both “she” and “him” are ambiguous.
Chekhov’s Gun. A complete discussion of Chekhov’s gun can be found here, but the pertinent part of that discussion is “do not include any unnecessary elements in a story.” In one manuscript we received where the characters were on their way to a forbidden city, the reader was told about every time the characters played, ate, pooped, and slept. Because the characters were not my cats, seven uneventful pages about the trip became boring. In another manuscript, a husband spent almost an entire chapter discussing how he did not like the doilies and other furniture in the living room. Because he did not use the doilies to set the house ablaze at some point, this too was unnecessary information. In short, unless your character is rescuing someone from the ocean or kills someone with a harpoon gun, your readers probably do not need to read two pages about how the character scuba dives.
By the way – I think writing groups are a great way for authors to get honest and invaluable feedback about their manuscripts. If you don’t belong to one you should. If you’re looking for a group, you can try meetup.com to find a group near you. Because I survived my last trip to a writer’s group, I just might do it again…