I never criticize other authors because, quite frankly, I know how much work goes into a story, and even if the story didn't work for me, I know it worked for someone else. That's the nature of the beast – not everyone will like what you write, some will actively hate it, and some will think it's the best thing ever written.
But, yesterday, I was goofing off at a point where I didn't quite know what came next in my WIP and a headline on CNN caught my eye: Making New Friends as an Adult. Sounds interesting, right? I thought so, therefore I clicked.
Let's just say that what came next was a head-shaker. If you want an example of how NOT to write your stories, look at this article. The writer starts off talking about cheese sticks, finally meanders to the one lunch date she had with a coworker that was perhaps a tad awkward, and back to cheese sticks.
Cheese sticks! She was trying to use them as a metaphor for something, but honest to God, the miss is a mile wide. For once, I don't mind saying so because a) everyone in the comment trail thought the same things* and b) we write in two entirely different genres so that I'm pretty sure the writer won't pop over here and see me using her work as an example of what not to do.
Remember when starting your stories that you've made a promise to your readers. You should know who your characters are and what their core problems are, and that's what you should write about. Don't spend the entire first chapter in setup before you get to the meat of the problem. This article that was supposed to be about making friends as an adult was more about cheese sticks and their affect on the author's life than about making friends. It would have been okay, maybe, if the reader had thought she was getting a story about cheese sticks — but she thought she was getting a story about how to make friends.
Don't promise your readers a story about a man and woman falling in love and then give take them a meandering side trip through the history of viticulture. If your characters own a winery, fine, use some of that information in weaving the framework for the main story. But for goodness sake, don't spend those valuable first pages on it. The cheese stick writer wasted valuable space talking about cheese sticks instead of her core topic and lost a lot of readers as a result. Don't do that, friends. Start with a bang and keep your story focused on the main problem. Cheese sticks are fine so long as they don't take over and become the main topic. Or, if they are the main topic, don't mislead readers with a story about something else entirely.
I suppose the cheese stick story would have been fine if I hadn't expected a tale about how to make friends, but it was so far off base from what I was expecting that I was irritated with the writer for misleading me. Two-thirds of the article is about the cheese sticks. One-third is about her lunch date and how it didn't go quite the way she was expecting. Big miss.
Do not do that in your writing! Thus ends today's mini writing rant. 🙂
*Comment trails on articles in public forums are usually enough to get my blood pumping in all the wrong ways, but this time, I agreed with the basic sentiment, which was “Huh?”
Lynn… loved the rant, mainly because you rant so seldom and even sounded nice when you did it. 😎
@Cyn Bagley: LOL, thanks Cyn! 🙂
Hi Lynn: I am currently wrestling “cheese sticks” away from my characters so that the story will deliver on its promise. So true!! Every time I find my characters “walking the dog” I know I have major work to do. But dang it, for some silly reason I must get the dog walk out of my system before I get to the heart of the story.
Thanks for the valuable advice.
@Christine: You’re right! Sometimes you do have to write about cheese sticks before you figure out you need to cut it all and get to the heart of the story. 🙂 And guess what? I still do it sometimes too.
Thanks for the laugh, Lynn. And it wasn’t your commentary that made me laugh, it was that article. Egad!