What Not to Write


There are a couple of things that I find annoying; people not using their blinkers, queue jumpers, noisy eaters in the cinema (really important stuff),these little, pesky things disrupt the flow of my day. But they also pop up in novels, not literally these problems, but other things that authors often do that jolt my reading experience out of the fantasy realm back into reality. An author once said if you want to know what not to write, think about the things you skim over as a reader. There are two things that without fail have me flipping through the pages faster than a Kardashian seeking publicity.

1. Dream sequences – I hate them, I never read them, I skim as quickly as I can to get back into the story. Writers often put them in as foreshadowing, some psychic warning, but they are always boring. I know when I have a dream and I want to tell someone, I start to tell the dream and I gradually I see his or her eyes glassing over. It’s not that I’m a bad storyteller, truly I’m not, it’s that dreams are only interesting to the dreamer. So writers, heed my warning, leave the dream sequence out.

2. Overly long descriptive paragraphs – In a genre fiction there is no need to do lengthy descriptive scenes, most readers do not care what the character is wearing, and what they ate for lunch. If it’s not important to the story or characterization leave it out. The one exception is when the writer has a gift with words and the description is so skillfully woven that it creates an emotional response from the reader. Writers like Ian McEwan, F Scott Fitzgerald or Martin Amis, even Earnest Hemingway fall into this category.

15 thoughts on “What Not to Write

  1. I just wanted to comment on people who don’t indicate, crunchy chewing and people who jump queue’s :p. They all fail and all three are mentioned by my intolerant protag Mae haha. Funny ! Personally I will gloss over too much detail in books and prose … If I get bamboozled by the words I’ll skim a few pages until I get lost lol

  2. Dream sequences and lengthy descriptions are certainly topics that are easier to avoid in genre fiction! Except maybe for the dream sequences. Dream sequences and prophecy are the peanut butter and jelly twins of genre fiction.

    I’m largely an action writer myself, (“You want to see what this room looks like? Great! Take a good look while the household objects try to murder you!”) but I think that there is room for a lot of good stylistic variation. The biggest problem is that some styles are just outright harder than others. It takes a very skillful writer to seamlessly pull off dreams or description because they are inherently jarring to the flow of the story.

    • Yes, I think that is the problem, some of the popular fiction writers don’t have the skill that is required for original and engaging dream sequences. I was annoyed because the last book I read had the girl dreaming in every chapter and it was the same dream, slightly varied, and I couldn’t handle it anymore -I was venting.

  3. Without relating this either to dream sequences or descriptive writing too specifically, I do believe different readers respond to different stimuli, and it is possible to unwittingly edit the soul out of a book. And then there is the medium: if you are reading your book on a smartphone even long words can be annoying, whereas the white space between hard covers begs for longer, fuller sentences just to reach the edge of the page – short, two clause language looks staccato and lacks rhythm.

    So where do I stand on this? I don’t know. I just finished Lawrence’s ‘White Peacock’, a book that, without descriptive depth, could be reduced to five thousand words, but so much would be missing! On the other hand, I recently read Seth’s ‘An Equal Music’, and loved his sparse, quirky style. I guess it all depends on the author – and the plot – and the book – and the weather – and what about Virginia Woolf?

    • I think it does depend on the genre. I love Thomas hardy and his descriptions go for pages, but in genre of literary fiction i find it acceptable. i find it difficult when the writing is poor or the genre is popular fiction, where the pace is faster, that author often get self indulgent and the description don’t do the novel any favours. Thanks for the feed back. I’d love to read “White Peacock”.

  4. I think dream sequences when they are literally just dreams can be dry, but mainly because they’re so overdone. I do think that some dream sequences are fabulously done and are compelling. Also, when dreams act as a medium for two separated characters to see each other (so I guess it’s kind of not a dream, but a magic sleep thing), like in the Vampire Diaries, they can be interesting.

      • Yeah, I love the show, too! Ian Somerhalder all the way, haha 🙂
        One dream sequence is in the first book, where Damon ends up drinking Elena’s blood, although it’s part dream, part reality. The way she does it is really cool!

  5. I totally agree on both points. I always skip over those long and unnecessary description paragraphs. Do I really care where the couch is in the room and how old it is and where the character bought it and why there’s a random stain in the corner? It’s almost always no.

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