At the request of several beginning writers, I’ve been reading a lot of first chapters of books. The writers are unpublished but eager and hardworking. The plot and situation look promising. And I am saddened that many of the same problems crop up again and again, killing the promise.
Too much background in the early pages. At one of the first iterations of “Of Dark and Stormy Nights,” the Midwest Mystery Writers of America’s writing workshop, Dorothy Salisbury Davis said, “Begin with something happening, after something has happened, and before too much has happened.” Yes, I know this sounds like the stock market advice “But low and sell high.” But think about it. Get into the story first. You can explain background, when and if it’s necessary, later, after the reader is interested in what’s going on.
Too many adjectives, and especially too many double adjectives. Example: “The hot, amber sun rose over the wide, green lawn on that last, long day of my vacation.” The reader feels like he’s wading through a swamp. A good exercise is to take any three pages of the manuscript and go through with a red pen, asking, “Is this adjective necessary?” Also, see if you can show the same info by action, or by the reaction of characters in the story.
Too many tentative words. Words like almost, practically, nearly, partly, and such are signs of self-doubt. While I certainly am victimized by a whole lot of self-doubt, I go back after the first draft and take words like this out. In fact, I’ve done this long enough that my brain has started to say, “Dummy, don’t put them in in the first place.”
Too many “conclusion” words. Conclusion words: beautiful, arrogant, ugly, magnificent, ghastly, stately, scary, and so forth. Pick words that give facts, and let the reader form the picture in his mind.
I want your writing to work for you. Write the book. I need more mysteries to read.