Saturday, July 04, 2009

How Not To Write A Story

This is a repost of a blog I did last year, because once again I'm judging a short story contest, and once again I'm ready to fling myself off a cliff.

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In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm in a bad mood. For the past few days I've been wading through hundreds of short stories. I'm a paid judge for a big contest, and my verdicts are due.

This bad mood has been brought about by seeing the same story mistakes, over and over and over and OVER AND OVER...

So, for the benefit of the newbie writing world, and to save me future pain if I ever judge a contest again, please take the following to heart:

DO NOT START A STORY WITH WEATHER
Yes, you can work weather into the scene. But I don't care that it was sixty-five degrees on a spring morning, and if you make that your first sentence you're going to remain unpublished.

DO NOT START A STORY WITH CHARACTER DESCRIPTION
Your protag may be named Bob McTestes, and he was born in Sunnydale, Ohio in 1967, but you need to work that into the body of the story and not make it the first sentence. Better yet, don't work it in anywhere.

DO NOT START A STORY BY ADDRESSING THE READER
"You'll never believe what happened on July 2, 1943." You're right. I won't believe it, because I just stopped reading.

DO NOT START A STORY WITH PREMONITION
"Phil Assmaster didn't know he was going to die that day." But Joe Konrath knows you're not going to win this contest.

DO NOT START A STORY WITH THE PROTAG WAKING UP
Frankly, it shocked me how many stories began like this. More so than any other way I'm warning against. Opening your eyes because you had a bad dream or heard a strange noise is a quick way to put the reader to sleep.

DO NOT START A STORY WITH CLICHES
Once upon a time. A long time ago. This is a true story. Ugh. Next time, save me the trouble and put the story in your own recycle bin.

DO NOT START A STORY WITH SETTING DESCRIPTION
"Moronville, Ohio was a town of 8371 people originally founded in 1872 by Quakers." Hopefully, one of those Quakers has a gun and will shoot me.

DO NOT START A STORY WITH TELLING
"Josh felt terrible." Really? How am I supposed to picture that? Maybe I picture Josh's stomach aching, his head throbbing, and the hole where his heart is supposed to be. If I'm picturing that, perhaps you should have as well and written it that way.

DO NOT START A STORY WITH ANY DESCRIPTION
I don't care if you're describing a person, place, thing, era, or whatever. I want to read about conflict, not helper words.

DO NOT USE HELPER WORDS
Force yourself to pare away every adverb, and half your adjectives. Also kill any speaker attribution other than "said" and "asked."

DO NOT START A STORY WITH A PROLOGUE
Your short story doesn't need a prologue. Your novel probably doesn't either.

DO NOT USE EXCLAMATION POINTS!
Especially a bunch of them!!!!!!!

DO NOT USE THE SAME FARUQING WORD TWICE IN THE SAME FARUQING PARAGRAPH
Get the faruquing point?

GRAMMER AND SPELING SHOULD BE PREFECT
If you don't care, why should I? Ditto annoying dialect spelling. Y'all get a-ight wit dat sheet, 'kay?

And finally:

DO NOT MAKE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER AN ANIMAL
Ever.

Are there exceptions to these rules? Of course. There are always exceptions. But I didn't see any in the 2000+ stories I had to endure.

Also, for the love of all that is good, use 12 point Arial, Courier, or Times New Roman, double space the text, one inch margins, and indent each paragraph but don't add extra spaces in between them. One staple, in the upper lefthand corner.

Rant over. Ignore at your own peril. Now I'm going to go have some bourbon and scour my eyes and brain with steel wool.

And if you want an example of what I've had to endure, here's another blog entry I did on this subject:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2008/01/bad-stories.html