Thursday, June 30, 2011

You Are a Writer, Not a Fucking Designer

The title of today's post was inspired by this rant.

As I've stated approximately 10,000 times, I have a short attention span. I don't have time to read (or beta read) your brilliant literary pukefest on the wonders of walking in the rain. I really don't.

I don't care about your observational writing exercise on the 270 degree angle of a raindrop on your windowpane. I don't care. Metaphors and similes are nice when they're used with restraint. Your purpose as a writer is not to impress your reader by filling your paragraphs with adverbs and adjectives like a teenager writing emo poetry.
Hermione gazed pensively across the moor, her bosom hanging low, like the menacing storm clouds above, while her tears mingled moistly with the miasmic mountain mist. The sound of distant thunder brought to her mind memories of the past, of a time when the world was young and she was blissfully carefree. She shrugged her shabbily shawled shoulders, and allowed a weary smile to loosen her lips as Sir Reginald apprehensively approached.
If your book reads like this, you need to stop waiting for Faulkner to rub your back and praise your astounding literary skills. You are not ready for publication. Any word that doesn't progress your story can be cut. Any sentence, passage, fancy bit of alliteration that does not serve any purpose other than showing off your knowledge of literary devices can be deleted. You see that button in the right hand corner of your keyboard. Press it.

Don't think this is an attack on flowery prose. I have nothing against flowery prose when it is appropriate for your story. You, YA writer, why does your bad boy think in pretty metaphors when he can't even read at a seventh grade reading level? Why are you using words like scintillating and incandescent to describe the sun? Sounds like you're trying to show off your SAT vocabulary.

Not only am I against purple prose, I also hate choppy prose. Check this out:
She took dance classes. She had no natural grace or sense of rhythm. She eventually gave up the idea of becoming a dancer.
I have seen way too many horror writers use this technique. They're under the impression that it builds suspense. It doesn't. It gives me a headache. Vary your sentence structure. For gods-sake, please use transitions. You are not Hemingway. You are not Joyce. You are not Cormac McCarthy (who I can't stand, but that's for later). You are a struggling writer who is alienating half of your audience. Who wants to read an entire novel written like this? No one. Not your mom. Not your dog. Not your girlfriend. And definitely not your boyfriend.

You write to entertain with words. You don't write to impress anyone. Flashing around twenty dollar words indicates that you're probably the sort of person who lists their SAT score alongside their IQ score in the About Me section of your website. Use literary devices in moderation. They are like salt. You can never under salt your food. Sure, it might be bland, but it's still edible. You can, however, over salt your food to the point where it draws disgust from your customer. Do you want to disgust your reader? No.

To a certain extent, you must write for yourself. But if you plan on sharing your writing, make it palatable for the masses (people like me who tend to skim long passages of text). You are not entitled to have readership. I, the reader, can move on at anytime. It is your responsibility to keep me invested in your story. I might be a lazy reader, but that isn't my problem. It's yours. Which brings me to my next point.

Theme. Do you think Shakespeare, Toni Morrison,  Stephen King... etc. sit down at their desks and think, hey, I want to write a story about the consequences of death and moral ambiguouty. No. They sit down and write their stories. Critics and professors analyze themes. Intentionally writing every single sentence to enforce your theme is akin to grabbing your soap box and shoving your message down your reader's throat. Assume that your reader is smart enough to know what your story means. And for those of you (me) who enjoy sticking little messages and allusions into their stories, sometimes a cigar should just be a cigar. Your average reader has not read Orlando Furioso, The Dead, or Titus Andronicus. Slipping in oblique references to these works will not impress anyone. But it will confuse or annoy fifty percent of your readers.

Finally, you, I repeat, you are not a graphic designer. I am a graphic designer. Chris Spooner is a graphic designer. You are a writer. When I am writing, I am not designing. Writing is not meant to be aesthetically pretty. It is meant to be read easily. My eyes should not tire when I read your book.

Long passages of prose are not good. I like David Levithan, but I do not like the way he formats his work. I want to read your story. I do not want to frame it on my wall.


You are not published. You are not an editor for Simon and Schuster. You have to use paragraph breaks. Otherwise, I will not beta for you. And you can bet that a few agents will press the reject button because they don't have the time to deal with this.


Quotation marks exist for a reason. Use them.


The em-dash is not meant to substitute for the quotation mark.


Do you enjoy reading Joyce? No. Them stop trying to write like him. Most people do not like Joyce. Joyce is Joyce. You are not Joyce. You are you. Create your own style that utilizes quotation marks and paragraph breaks. Confusing me does not win you brownie points.

NOTE: This is not a how to guide. This is what annoys me and what will probably annoy quite a few people. I am not an expert writer. I am, however, a reader who hates sloshing through flashy writing. Write your fucking story. Don't do anything else. Thank you.

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