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Top 10 Storytelling Cliches Writers Need To Stop Using

I thoroughly enjoyed this list. Some things were news to me but most I know of & avoid like the plague in my own writing. This is from columnist Rob W. Hart on Lit Reactor. Writers pay attention:

rob-w-hartCliché is the enemy of good writing. 

We, as writers, are trained to kill clichéd phrases in sentences. But that’s not the only place they can hide—they can infect the spaces between the words, too.

Clichés can infect storytelling techniques.

Need to build some tension? Have a time bomb with a digital readout slowly ticking down to zero!

Is your narrator a dick? Blame it on abusive parents!

Want to get all writerly in conveying the plot? Put it in a dream!

These are storytelling devices that pop up again and again, crutches for the writer to lean on and help move the story along without actually having to stretch their abilities. What follows are, to my mind, the worst of the bunch. 

1. Characters describing themselves in mirrors

Why it’s easy: Describing a character when you’re writing in the third person is pretty easy when the narrative voice is omniscient. But first person is a bit of a challenge—how do you convey what your character looks like without making them sound vain and self-obsessed? Wait, how about using a mirror!?

Why it’s a cop out: It’s lazy, it’s been done to death, and anyway, no one looks in a mirror and takes stock of all their features in severe detail. I would argue you don’t need to belabor the description of your main character anyway. You can hit the big points—if your character’s defining trait is a deformity or a hairstyle—there are ways to work that into the narrative. For the rest of if, you have to trust the reader. First that they don’t need to be coddled, and second, that they’ll project something onto the character. 

2. Broadcasting an upcoming plot twist

Why it’s easy: Sometimes you need to give a little weight to a character who’s been sitting around and doing nothing, or make sure the reader is on his or her toes. What’s wrong at a little hint at things to come?  

Why it’s a cop out: This is the “little did he know” principle of storytelling. In The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, toward the end of the book, the albino monk is captured by the story’s heroes. And it says—I’m paraphrasing here—something like: “Little did he know that he’d soon turn the tables.” Leading me to ask: Why would you broadcast a plot twist? Especially in a book that’s classified as a thriller?! Dan Brown isn’t the only author to commit this crime. It’s just the first example to come to me. 

3. Blaming bad behavior on bad parenting

Why it’s easy: It’s hard to justify bad behavior. If your narrator is a dick, you still want him/her to be a redeemable dick, or at least someone damaged enough that their dickishness isn’t so far-fetched. You know what makes people into dicks that you can’t really question, you just have to accept? Bad parents! 

Why it’s a cop out: Almost every fucked-up character in fiction can trace his or her issues back to being sexually abused or slapped around by parental units. Making the parents into monsters is an easy way to explain away bad behavior. It’s too easy. The thing is, sometimes this can be profound or deeply affecting. But a lot of the time, the bad parents are there for the sake of it. You know what’s scarier? Someone growing up in a normal household and still becoming a dick.  

4. Too many inside jokes/references

Why it’s easy: Because you need to make sure everyone knows you watched The Big Lebowski. 

Why it’s a cop out: Few things stop me as cold in a story as an inside joke or a belabored reference. We get it. You’re funny and you watch cool stuff. But I would need two hands and both feet to count the amount of times I’ve read references to rugs that tied the room together. Writing for your friends, or for your own ego, is a sure way to alienate a reader. 

5. The chosen one

Why it’s easy: Your hero isn’t just special. He/she has been chosen by some higher force! 

Why it’s a cop out: Characters can be special without being touched by the hand of fate. And anyway, if your character is the only person who can solve a given problem, does that make him/her heroic? Or just easily coerced? They have no choice but to be heroic, and that’s not really heroism. Very rarely is this trope used well. Most of the time… it’s not.  

To continue reading this hilarious & informative piece, please click HERE!

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Help Me Support Danger Word Film!

I rarely ask people to donate funds for anything, but this project, Danger Word Film is very dear to my heart & it is important to me, so I wanted to remind everyone about this community funded project I’ve have asked you all to be a part of, throughout social media. It’s from husband-wife writing team Steven Barnes Tananarive Due . Steven is the author of 27 novels & has written for television shows such as The Outer Limits, Andromeda & the (new) Twilight Zone. The episode he wrote “A Stitch In Time” on The Outer Limits won an Emmy Award as well.

Tananarive is the award winning novelist of 10 horror novels such as the African Immortal series which started with MY SOUL TO KEEP & she is the Spelman College Cosby Chair in the Humanities.

I have met them both, been informally mentored as a person and writer & they are wonderful, down-to-earth, exceptional human beings. Both of their novels have influenced me as a writer as well. Please visit www.dangerwordfilm.wordpress.com to learn how you can be a part of/support this project! I will be donating myself & NO DONATION IS TOO SMALL (OR BIG hehe!) Amounts can be donated anywhere from $1 & up, simply click the “donate” button once you’re on their website! They have acknowledgements for all levels of donations and some fantastic incentives available. Recently, they announced that the part of “Grandpa Joe” will be played by veteran actor Frankie Faison, well known for his roles on television show “The Wire” and The Silence of The Lambs. Faison is currently co-starring in Alan Ball’s series “Banshee” on Cinemax. Steven & Tananarive share more here:

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Connect with Danger Word Film on social media:

“Like” DWF on Facebook HERE

Follow DWF on Twitter HERE

Thanks so much to those who have donated already! It is greatly appreciated.

-Talitha “TK” McEachin

 

 
 

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Book Review: ‘River of Stars’ A sweeping saga of a swordsman and a poetess

Friends,

ROSOccasionally, I come across a book review written so well, that it causes a curiosity within me so strong, that I must let my fingers do the “walking” to my favorite website & purchase the novel & read it immediately.(Note that such a review need not be favorable to be well-written per se, although this one is.) Author, editor & book reviewer for the Seattle Times Nisi Shawl has written such a review and I wanted to share it with you all. I have shared here, on my website & throughout social media my thoughts on the importance of book reviews, so I’m always excited to share great ones, as I look for new books to spend my hard-earned money on & read.

This book’s plot is fascinating to me because I love the overall fantasy genre but get tired of the same old archetypes. I’m always looking for books to read, that don’t have elves, a dark lord, a farm boy who doesn’t realize he’s “the one” or talking non-human characters, so I am so looking forward to this. The review is of Guy Gavriel Kay’s RIVER OF STARSGuy Gavriel Kay is a Canadian author of fantasy fiction. Many of his novels are set in fictional realms that resemble real places during real historical periods. Kay has written over 10 novels and numerous shorter works. His works have been translated into 22 languages, and have sold over two million copies. Nisi Shawl has been reviewing fiction for the Seattle Times for nearly 12 years & I thoroughly enjoy her erudite analysis of the works of so many authors. Here is the review:

Why would a white man want to write an epic fantasy based on Chinese history? Why would he do so twice?

In the case of award-winning Toronto author Guy Gavriel Kay, the answer could be, “Because he can.” “River of Stars,” (Roc, 576 pp., $26.95), the follow-up to Kay’s acclaimed “Under Heaven,” takes place in Kitai, a land closely modeled on China. Set during a period mirroring the centuries-long Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE, as “Under Heaven” mirrored the Tang Dynasty of 618-907 CE), “River of Stars” tells the intertwining stories of a swordsman and a poetess. Not the most iconoclastic pairing for this milieu, but Ren Daiyan and Lin Shan are fully realized characters rather than the shadows those labels suggest.

Beginning with Ren’s sudden understanding that the bandits he confronts as a boy may hold the key to his future — that he needs to live in their midst rather than fight against them — the novel takes several surprising turns. Yet though the plot is blessedly unpredictable, its hero is no inscrutable warrior type: Ren is motivated by understandable emotions born of a culture well described. Brilliant, stubborn, loyal, daring, he does what he must. But his tasks are often determined by chance and other elements beyond his control, elements he as a character and we as readers recognize only in hindsight.

Lin Shan is a woman brought up by her idealistic father to break the far-too-­restrictive mold defining her sex. Through his characters’ unobtrusive reflections, Kay carefully differentiates the ways changing eras affect the roles of upper-class women. Whether she and her father travel to take part in a far city’s celebrated peony festival or to visit a country gentleman, the mores of the Song Dynasty dictate that Lin must stay in their destination’s women’s quarters; she must dress so as not to incite lust, must remain virgin till her wedding night and so on. Her literacy, while not forbidden, is viewed as eccentric.

To continue reading this review, please click HERE.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Book Reviews, Fictional Writing

 

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If I Could Give New Writers Advice, I’d Start With…

I’ll cut to the chase:

1. READ, READ, READ – You learn from the great writers. For dialogue I learned from Hemingway, figurative language from Richard Wright & to name a contemporary author, Janet Fitch. The point is that certain authors have certain strengths & you can learn from them by reading, from Shakespeare to The Odyssey to Zora Neale Hurston. READ!

2. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE – I have observed many writers focusing on marketing, discussions on social media about writing, illustrations, maps, plot synopsis (over & over again) – just write the book already. Write it without continuously editing it as you write (even I have trouble with this). Get it out of you, then worry about other things. Marketing is meaningless if you wrote & published a crappy book.

3. Find a great, supportive but honest critique group. Develop thick skin. If you put out a sample chapter for people to read be ready for any level of criticism. Do you want people to lie to you & pat you on the back or help you make it better? Decide. If you want the lie, please don’t ever ask me to critique your work. Also, give & take in critique groups. In other words, you should not be receiving more critiques than you give. It should be balanced.  Nothing annoys me more in critique groups than members who always want others to read/critique their work but never do the same for others.  The basic Golden Rule principle comes to mind here. Scribophile is a wonderful site for having your excerpts critiqued because they work on a karma point system & you can’t present your work to others unless you first gain karma points by helping other writers first.

4. DO NOT under ANY circumstances, publish a book that has only been edited by you, no matter how good you think you are. You’ll never catch all of your own errors.Some editors don’t catch every single error. Hire a good editor who is able to give you references & is familiar with your genre. It is my personal opinion that editing speculative fiction (for example) is different from other genres, so I advise getting an editor who has worked with authors in the genre you are writing in. Everyone may not agree with that and yet, the world turns. Don’t go for the “full editorial services for $99-$199” type of people – no serious, credible editor will edit an entire manuscript for so little money because it’s not worth their time – it’s a scam that too many writers fall for. Real editors don’t troll & spam potential clients to the point of ad nauseam, clients come to them.For those cheap prices, they’ll do little more than a spell check, which you can do yourself.

5. If you don’t have the money to pay for editing, wait until you do to publish the book or present it to literary agents and/or publishers. The same can be applied to self-publishing.Now some will disagree with that, citing the fact that an agent or publisher could see potential & offer a contract, even if the manuscript is not perfect. While they might have a point, I say, if you care about your work, you invest in it to polish it as if you only have one shot. If you are in the one percent of querying writers whose partial and/or full manuscript is requested (keywords: one percent), it needs to be error free as much as possible.  Why would an agent or publisher choose your story with errors when Jane Doe submitted a story in the same genre with an equally compelling plot & proper editing? You are competing with every other writer for the coveted 1%. It amazes me how many writers think that if they just put the book out there without professional editing (usually for .99) it will catch on. They think it will sell enough copies to pay for the editing for the sequel or make them rich. Shullbit. Amanda Hocking’s story is rare & most .99 books don’t turn writers into millionaires. Most regularly priced books don’t turn writers into millionaires.Get an extra job, ask your family for the money, sell an egg…or sperm, start cutting grass for $$$. Don’t sell crystal meth in a basement lab in your home. Or, do what I did – I raised money via Indiegogo. Fellow writer Dianne Gardner is doing the same via Kickstarter now. It’s worth the wait.

I’ll be back next week with more advice for writers.

#myrantfortheday

Consevative blogger Talitha McEachin

Talitha “TK” McEachin

TK McEachin is a political/cultural blogger and up & coming writer of fiction. Her first novel, THE ELEMENTS is the first in an epic fantasy series.To learn more about her fictional projects visit www.theelementsbooks.com. You may donate to her campaign on the home page as well, if you missed the deadline for her fundraising campaign.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in Fictional Writing

 

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McDonald’s Set to Become the Biggest Children’s Book Distributor in the UK

child readingI don’t eat McDonald’s but this is a nice move. Restaurants in the UK will begin giving out a book (or the child can choose a voucher & get a book from certain booksellers) in their Happy Meals instead of toys, making McDonald’s the largest book distributor in the UK. According to critics: “However, the UK’s Children’s Food Campaign is criticizing the campaign, calling it an “inappropriate marketing strategy at a time when there is an epidemic of childhood obesity.”

Now I’m not sure what obesity has to do with a book & if you want to fight obesity then don’t feed your children McDonald’s in the first place. McDonald’s already offers fruit in the place of french fries & Milk or juice in the place of soda, so as far as I’m concerned they’ve done their part in the fight against obesity. Currently, there are no plans to bring this “Happy Readers” program to the U.S but given the literacy rate here & low test scores when compared to other countries, this wouldn’t be such a bad move for U.S. McDonald’s restaurants.

From Jessica Ferri of Yahoo Shine:

McDonald’s branches in the United Kingdom will include a book with each Happy Meal sold as part of a promotion called “Happy Readers,” starting Wednesday.

With one book per Happy Meal in the U.K., McDonald’s estimates that they will become the largest children’s book distributor in the country, with a total of 15 million books handed out by the end of 2014.

International test shows United States falls behind in education

The initiative was inspired by data complied by Britain’s National Literacy Trust, which recently revealed that out of a group of 21,000 children, only 50 percent of them said they enjoyed reading “very much” or “a lot.”

For the next five weeks, Happy Meals in the UK will feature non-fiction books from DK Books’ Amazing World Series, with categories of Stars and Planets, Big Cats, and Oceans. Children can also redeem a voucher from their Happy Meal if they’d prefer to choose their own book at bookseller WH Smith.

“Our research tells us that there is a very clear link between book ownership and children’s future success in life, so it is very concerning that one in three children in the UK doesn’t own a book, and half of kids don’t really enjoy reading,” Jonathan Douglas, the director of the National Literacy Trust, told Britain’s Telegraph. “Initiatives like McDonald’s Happy Readers campaign play an important role in getting more books into the hands of children, and inspiring families to read together as a fun and interactive pastime.”

Children in the United States would undoubtedly benefit from the encouragement to read as well. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. is ranked 14th in reading tests, with many children reading below their grade level and only one-third of 13 year olds are daily readers. England’s ratings are even worse. They come in at 19th in international literacy tests.

15 million free books might seem like a big number, though it’s paltry compared to mega bookseller Amazon.com, which sells more than3.1 billion books a year worldwide.

To continue reading, please click HERE.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2013 in In The News, Pop Culture, Society

 

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