Thursday, January 18, 2007

Five writing mistakes I’ve read recently.

I’m not the world’s best writer and I still have a lot of learning to do, but I’d like to pass along some observations.

On one of the writing forums I haunt we’ve been having a discussion about the worst mistakes an erotic writer can make. The biggest mistakes in their eyes are associated with language choices. The verbiage of the piece. Oh sure we all bitch about clichéd storylines, but what makes us snicker at the wrong places and roll our eyes at the wrong time is the author’s word choices.

Since that discussion, I’ve been paying attention to my reactions while I’ve been reading. I’ve read over my older stuff and I see glaring mistakes from verbiage to style and I hope I never make those mistakes again. I’m sure you all have seen those mistakes and have been too polite to mention them.

Here are some recent mistakes that I’ve read. I will not name any names.

Mistake one: Bad euphemisms for penis.

My editor, Tami, rode my ass for not wanting to use a word other than cock for cock. I relented and put in a few dicks and pricks to make her happy and I see now that I was overusing the word cock. She was right and I was wrong. When you write male/male and you have two or more cocks in a lemon it’s really hard to come up with non-redundant ways of referring to the penis.

So, here’s my hierarchy for penis words. I use cock the most. I think it’s a strong word and conjures a great image. Someone who lives on a farm might disagree. Dick is my first fallback work. Prick is my third. I’ll also use erection, shaft, and arousal. At one time I would use “sex” and “member” those now feel stifled to me which would work great if you are writing from a POV that is a bit stifled when it comes to sex. “Rod” and “hard-on” can also work with the right character. I fight to not use penis unless it is a clinical situation. I'll think the word penis looks silly and sounds silly. I don’t find it erotic at all.

Additionally the verbiage should match the characters. If you have a character who would use “rod” then go for it. I have one fic with a very innocent bottom and the word cock in his POV isn’t really appropriate. I have used “down there” for him. If it fits the character then fine. Just be mindful of your choices. If you break the norm make sure you know what you’re doing.

Mistake two: Be mindful of the image your metaphors may conjure.

I’m trying to figure out how to explain this without using the example from the fic and I cannot. In one fic a partner was referred to as being as flexible as Gumby. Now, right in the middle of a sex scene I’m seeing the sexy top doing Gumby. Literally, Gumby. The bottom turned into Gumby with the green feet in the air and everything.

Another example was the action of a giving a blowjob being likened to playing a harmonica. All of a sudden the cock became a harmonica in my mind. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the technique preceding that simile would have been the lips along the shaft thing. But this was a full blowjob with the mouth around the cock. That’s not even how a harmonica is played.

In the event that you are the author of the above fic, please know that I enjoyed the fic. I thought you did a good job with the exception of those two points and the fic felt a little rushed.

Mistake three: Interjection of Author’s notes.

Before anyone calls me a hypocrite, I will admit to having done this. I’m sorry that I did. As a reader it pulls me out of the story and messes with the rhythm and pace the author has set. To make it worse, the author that did this did an excellent job of writing and the notes were not necessary at all. If you think something needs to be further explained then write it so that it is fully explained. If you’re writing properly such notes are not needed.

Mistake Four: Language.

If your fic is primarily in English assume that’s the only language the reader knows.

If you absolutely positively must use Japanese or some other language other than English in your English language fic (which I really wish you wouldn’t) make sure the setting of the foreign words lets the reader know what you are saying. If you have to give a vocab lesson or mini-dictionary before your fic, please, seriously think about not using that many foreign words. The reader will not remember the meanings. I recently read a fic that I positively love and it had a few Japanese words in it. Luckily, I knew most of them. But one chapter title is in Japanese and I haven’t a clue as to what it means. That chapter title is also a line in the fic later on. I know it’s supposed to be important, but it’s missed on me. I’m sure others missed it too.

As writers we love language and our vocabulary tends to be larger than “ordinary” people. Please remember that stories are not a place for you to showcase your vocabulary (English, Japanese, Spanish or otherwise), but a place for you to communicate your story. If the reader cannot understand what you are saying, then that communication is lost.

Of course, we all will send readers to the dictionary a few times. That’s part of the beauty of reading and writing. But, keep this in mind. Studies have shown that when someone doesn’t know the definition of a word and cannot devise the meaning of the word, then they tune out the next five words. (On average five.) So, by using that three-dollar word (or foreign language word) you’ve actually lost the reader for six words. That’s a sentence. If that’s a thesis sentence then the reader just lost the meaning of the paragraph. Scary.

I’m guilty of this. I particularly enjoy archaic words, but I now realize that it hurts my writing. I’m trying to use less of them and explain them better in context better. We’ll see how that goes, huh?

Mistake five: Rushing.

Take your time. Tell your story. So many fics are damaged by rushing. If you’re writing professional stuff and have a strict word count then you have to get real creative and write properly without rushing. If you’re a fanfic writer or working on an ebook—take your time. Take the reader there with you. You have me as a captive audience. If I’m still reading then I am willing to let you tell me what you need to tell me. Make me cringe with the characters. Make me pant with sex scenes. Make me worry over the angst. In short, make me believe it. It’s your world. You’re god, but I still have to be converted.

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