I bet you’ve seen the show that aired on TLC for ten years, the one where Stacy and Clinton raid closets and turn even the dowdiest dresser into a fashionista. Today I thought I’d put my own spin on that show by doling out insight I’ve gleaned throughout my years as a novelist—What Not to Write.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there are no hard and fast rules, so I’m not presenting any kind of mandates today. The following are simply suggestions based on knowledge I’ve acquired in the industry. Take them. Or leave them. But if I were you, I wouldn’t try to publish them.
While crafting your novel here are six things not to write…
A Flowery Bouquet
You want your voice to sparkle and shine so you force all kinds of flowery language into your sentences. Survey says, “Eh.” Stephen King makes some great points about this in his book, On Writing. The goal is for your story to flow. You don’t want readers to get tripped up by your purple prose. And you might think it would be cool for readers to oh and ah at your vocabulary, but the ultimate result is of peonies in prose is that the reader becomes entirely distracted. Story fail.
A Book without a Skeleton
Please don’t get so attached to your pants that you refuse to do any plotting whatsoever. I know, I get it. I’ve always been more of a pantser than a plotter, but if you jump in without any sense of where the story is headed, no idea of tension to introduce, ways to stretch your character, then you’re bound to lead the reader down multiple rabbit holes. This = more complicated edits. I’m trying to save you here. Books without bones to hold them in place bring me to…
The Loco-Emotive Journey
I’m guilty of this one. The first book I ever wrote (13 books ago) belonged in a journal. Why? Because it ended up being a long emotional journey. While I instantly gravitated to writing women’s fiction, which is character-driven, I’ve learned how essential it is to have a strong plot to carry a novel forward, to give it a backbone. Don’t make the same mistake I did with your first book and write an emotional geyser.
You’re going to write the next Gone Girl. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. Newsflash. You’re not the only one with this plan. Thousands of other people have clued in and think it would be awesome to make a killing by publishing a book similar to something else that has accrued great success. So they basically craft a copycat story. Multiple problems with this folks. #1. Readers are fickle. What’s hot this year likely won’t be next year or by the time you polish up your echo title. #2. It’s a bit like cheating because we’re being gypped of your voice—of the all the uniqueness you could bring to a book. #3. You’re better than this. The world doesn’t need another of anything. We need more firsts. Originals. Don’t fall prey to the copycat temptation.
The True-to-Life Enemy Tell-all
Know that person in the cubicle next to you who drives you crazy, the one with the widow’s peak, massive dimples and annoying habit of interrupting…yeah her. Don’t describe her to a T. Don’t do it for laughs. Don’t do it for cathartic release. Don’t do it for revenge. Get creative. Not only because you don’t want Cubicle Cathy to sue you, but because there’s a lot of material out there. It’s a blast to turn characters into Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head creations. Widow’s peak here. Loud gum chewing there. Utterly unrecognizable in the end.
Teaching Preaching Jack Reacher-style
Readers are quickly turned off if they feel like you’re preaching at them, trying to pass on an overt moral belief. I get it. It makes me feel uneasy when I sense an author is trying to teach me a lesson Jack Reacher-style. The in-your-face approach to novel writing is better left unexplored. With that said, I’ve learned something with every novel I’ve written. In the process of crafting a work and developing characters, I’m always amused at how much I grow. This should be your goal as an author. See what your characters might possibly want to teach you. It’s adds a certain humility and delight of discovery to the process.
Can you think of anything else not to write?
*Picture is of me as a kid. My three older sisters stuffed me in this old lady dress and wig. I was miserable. It’s my perfect example of what not to wear because even then I didn’t want to wear it. ;-)