Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness?)

Tell the same story better

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.

Can I provide specific examples from other authors, no. I may think a given author’s writing sucks or an individual piece of writing sucks and I still respect the fact that they’re putting something out, that they got off the couch.

General examples, sure:

  • No clear indication of who the main characters are by page 10/end of first chapter
  • No clear contract between author and reader by page 10/end of first chapter
  • Poor or no recognizable editing (Note: the best editing disappears completely)
  • No clear indication of what the characters want by page 10/end of first chapter
  • Story starts too far away from the action to catch the reader’s interest
  • Unbelievable/improbable setting
  • Narration/Exposition lead and/or talking heads
  • No tension
  • Uninteresting/boring characters
  • Over use and/or under use of attributions (“speech tags”)
  • Improper punctuation (not to be confused with writing styles such as Charles Frazier’s or Cormac McCarthy’s)
  • The author’s so intent on making their point they don’t tell a good story (aka The Decapitation Project Syndrome)
  • Non-moving story (often due to poor editing, story sections that don’t move the story forward)

And those are starters.

How about some examples from your own work, Joseph?
Glad you asked and happy to. Here are three examples of stories starting too far from the action to catch the reader’s interest (a nod to my Great Opening Lines posts and please remember, I’m not claiming the fixes are perfect, only that they’re better than the originals). Note that the before and after text appear in a single popup. Make sure you allow popups in order to see the edits.

  • Empty Sky, self-published and I’m re-editing it. You should still buy a copy. Then buy a copy when I’m finished with the re-edit so you can see how much my writing’s improved (if at all)). –
    Empty Sky Example

    The new version is better because:

    • The story’s two main characters, Jamie and Shem, are right up front in the first sentence. Who will do the most changing? Who will have the most to win or lose? Shem and Jamie.
    • We know their relationship in a few short sentences – Jamie cares for and trusts Shem.
    • A promise is made to the reader – Shem knows something Jamie doesn’t, they’ll both investigate and they’ll do it in the woods on a moonlit night (ooh, scary scary!) – the promise is “If you want to know what Shem and Jamie are getting into, keep reading and I’ll show you.”
  • Cicatrix, a current work in progress, originally started with the main character having a nervous breakdown. Definitely tension, except I didn’t give the reader a chance to know the character enough to care. –
    Cicatrix Example

    The new version is better because:

    • Nothing really happens in the old version. I can give it is a C+ for effort as a character study.
    • We know the main character in the first sentence.
    • We know he’s lost, definitely geographically and from the rest of the text we can guess that he’s a little odd.
    • We know his dog is going to play an important role.
    • We know he and the dog have a problem – a destination – that technology won’t solve for them – can’t find. In fact, where he’s going is so out of technology’s reach that it’s “…not on any known map.”
    • We make a promise to the reader that the protagonist will solve his problem without technology: He takes control of the car by saying “Manual mode.”

    Same basic info, presented much better, don’t you think? (and do tell. I honestly want to know).

  • Another work in progress, “The Tomb” originally started with secondary characters spelunking; an activity that never reappears in the story and is predicatory only in that it gets an antagonist into the story. –
    The Tomb Example

    The new version is better because:

    • The original is poorly written and boring. Nothing’s happening to drive the story forward, no tension, no real conflict.
    • The rewrite places the protagonist in the first sentence.
    • We know several critical facts about the protagonist in the same number of paragraphs that originally went nowhere.
    • A challenge and a possible conflict are presented.
    • We know the protagonist has some gallows humor about his situation.

Are the rewrites better? You tell me. I’d love to know your opinion.

It takes a willing eye to critique your own work. It also takes an educated eye (my opinion, that).

Okay enough about me.

Next up – opinions versus facts.