At our last writers group meeting, I mentioned I find it harder to find novels that hold my interest. Some seem trite and others are poorly written. Steve said it was because writers recognize bloopers that somehow get past editors, or the authors skip professional editing before self- publishing. Somewhere along the line, we became captives of our inner editors. Some writing mistakes that we would have missed before now leap off the page and wrench us from the writer’s story world. We eventually toss the book aside.
First Blooper – Head Hopping
“Head hopping” is one of the easiest mistakes to make. Most writers write in first or third person. Everything the point of view (POV) character experiences in a scene must be written only through his or her perceptions. One character cannot read another mind.
For example, in this scene, the boss, Harry, is the POV character. He is furious because one of his employees forgot a scheduled service appointment. George, the employee, gets a dressing down and the author wants to convey to the reader that George desperately hopes Harry will accept his excuse.
“For Pete’s sake, George, how in blazes can you just forget a service appointment? Get your head screwed on, man. We can’t afford to lose clients because you can’t remember to do your job right!”
George rubbed his hands and his face turned red. “Harry, I swear that will never happen again. I was sick yesterday, probably running a fever,” he explained, hoping Harry would believe him and accept his excuse.
Did you notice how the POV hopped from Harry’s head to George’s when I wrote George was ”hoping Harry would believe him and accept his excuse? We are in Harry’s head in this scene, and Harry has no way to know what George was hoping for without hopping into his head.
Second Blooper – a “hey Bob”
In this example, the police detective arrives on the scene of a dead body sprawled on the sidewalk. He approaches the uniformed officer who is cordoning off the area to protect any evidence.
Detective Charles Yost approached the officer in charge and squinted to read the man’s name badge. “What do we have here, Sergeant… Kelly is it?”
“Yes, Sir. Witnesses say they were walking down East Main, turned the corner and just saw her lying here, dead. That’s when they called 911. Of course we’ll have to wait until the medical examiner determines the cause of death.”
There is no need to write “Of course we’ll have to wait until the medical examiner determines the cause of death.” Nor does the Sergeant need to tell the police detective that either. That little addition is a “hey Bob” — as if to say, hey Reader Bob, in case you don’t get it, I’m going to make sure you know the medical examiner determines cause of death. Duh.
Third Blooper- On the Nose Writing
“On the nose” writing slows the action and wastes the reader’s time. This is when the author describes every movement in boring detail, every action is right “on the nose” — hence the name of the blooper. Here’s an example of “on the nose” writing.
“As she walked into the store, Emma heard her cell phone ringing from deep inside her purse. She stopped and leaned against an outerwear display so she could root around in her purse for the phone. Emma plowed through wadded tissues, her wallet, credit card container, and comb while the ringing continued. When her fingers circled the phone, she sighed with relief. Swiping at the answering bar, she put the phone to her ear. It was Danny, her fiancé. He did not sound happy. Her heart skipped a beat when he told her his grandmother had just died.”
Good grief! So many words (98 actually) just to say:
“Emma’s cell phone rang as she walked into the store. It was her fiancé, Danny. She could hear him struggling to control his voice as he told her his Grandmother had just died. Emma’s heart skipped a beat.” (33 words)
Did the second version leave out anything important? I think it was just as powerful, if not more so, than the first one. Sometimes, less is more.
So, those are just three common writing bloopers that hide in plain sight. How many will you find when you try to enjoy your next novel?