1. MumblingSage
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    MumblingSage Contributing Member

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    Prose mistakes that give amateurs away

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MumblingSage, May 14, 2008.

    What's one word, phrase, or sentence construction that automatically gives a writer away as an amatuer to you? That makes you lose faith in their ability to use the English language? That just makes the story sound 'off'?

    I have tons, but a major one for me is exclamation points in prose. They don't make me feel excited, they make the writer sound sugar-high. I also dislike quantifiers like 'a few' or 'every so often', especially when using during a dramatic scene, because they make everything sound unimportant (the writer can't even be bothered to give specific numbers).

    Others?
     
  2. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Constant adverbs in dialogue tags, and redundant accesories in their modifiers.
     
  3. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I agree about the exclamation marks, MumblingSage. The only place they should be used is in dialogue and direct thoughts.

    With adverbs in dialogue tags, it depends. I feel use of simple ones is fine, it's the people who use grandiose words which haven't been used since the middle ages, who you can tell are overdoing it.

    Vague quantifiers are fine, if they are used in the right context. If it is an emotional scene, you don't want it to feel sterile, but a forced high degree of accuracy. But it depends really.
     
  4. TenderHeart
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    TenderHeart Member

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    Usually if it says by Tenderheart or authored by Tenderheart it is a dead give away.

    Seriously, adverbs should be like children, seen but not heard. If they start making too much noise it totally distracts me from the story.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Writing in present tense "to make the action more immediate".
     
  6. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Present tense for that purpose, I'd agree with. However, as with most other litterary devices, it can be used to great effect- it just requires a subtle touch.
     
  7. Crazy Ivan
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    Crazy Ivan Contributing Member

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    Well, bad grammar.
    I mean, come on.
    Bad grammar.
    Duh.
    Bad grammar.
    I mean, you know, it's...
    BAD GRAMMAR.
    That about sums it up.


    EDIT: ...oh, wait, you wanted something more specific. Sorry.
    Alright, I hate excessive angst among characters. I don't want mopers. I want people who will DO something! (And preferably cause at least one explosion in the process.)

    EDITED EDIT: OHHH, you meant SPAG-wise. Goshdarn it I just keep messing up!
    Okay, for real this time...I know I'm reading a bad story when I find my friend the semicolon huddling on the floor, beaten and abused in ways it should never be. More people out there need to know what that handy little ';' sign is really for.
     
  8. Mercury
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    Mercury Active Member

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    I agree that the overuse of adjectives/adverbs can snap me out of a story, but another show-stopper is the seemingly obligatory over-written opening paragraph.
     
  9. scribbledhopes
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    scribbledhopes Member

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    There are so many little things that send that flag up, I become frustrated with writers who use caps or exclamation points to show excitement.

    On the other hand,

    Writes who write above their audience is also a big flag for me. There is a sweet spot where the communication the sentence provides and understanding of the target reader meet. Large or vague words that are not commonly used are often skipped over by the reader or guessed at and in that effect become useless. Don’t impress me with what you know, impress me with what you want me to know.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Overabundant description. When someone pauses the action to describe a character's hair and eye color, and full wardrobe, because the reader just HAS to have a photographic image of the character.

    There are exceptions, of course. If the story is from the POV of a policeman or a P.I., he or she is probably taking in details of the person's appearance - it's in character to do so.

    But the hero popping off shots at the bad guys and trying not to get shot himself is not thinking about his long dark hair or the manufacturer of the pistol he is firing - so the reader shouldn't either.

    In a similar vein, redundant description:
    Alright already! We get it, it's cold!
     
  11. Kaij
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    Kaij Senior Member

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    Clichés.

    I'm so friggin' sick of reading them.
    Opening lines would be: (a) The main character waking up, (b) landscape sceneries, (c) a dark alley of some sort, (d) starting out with a legend coming true.

    Plus, I want a new spin on vampires and werewolves. The hate each other, OK, but why? I don't like the reason of Just Because™. It seems like everyone's copying one another with the whole vamp/were thing. Have writers lost their creativity? *quirks a brow* It's just all one big, huge cliché, grah!

    Other random clichés:
    - Evil Villain wears dark clothes and just looks...evil. Wtf?
    - Evil Villain has stupid hunchmen to do dirty work. What, they have to be stupid to make the villain look smart?
    - Fate and Chosen Ones. Kill them all. Seriously.
    - Farm boy becomes a hero. *headdesk*
    - When someone's dying, don't call an ambulance, they might be able to help. Instead, hold them close and tell them not to die. It might work one day.
    - A person's dying words are clear and precise. Yeah. Right.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Competition for the same niche in the food chain?
     
  13. Bluemouth
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    Bluemouth Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know you'll answer with something like a perfect balance, but would you happily read a novel written deliberately without much focus on description? As in, the bare necessities are detailed very briefly - location, characters, major aesthetics - but the rest is left up to character interactions?
     
  14. Kaij
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    Kaij Senior Member

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    Sure, vampires may need blood from humans to survive, but werewolves? What would they be killing people off for? And if you say it's cause they are evil and werewolves, I'mma smack you :p
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Werewolves require meat, and lots of it. Humans are their natural prey - they are plentiful, flabby, easy to kill.

    Vampire: The damned hairballs spill more blood than they drink. It sickens me to see such waste.

    Werewolf: Those nightdrinkers leave dry husks behind - all that meat, dried out and with a rotten stink. The very smell of them in the night air makes my nose crinkle.

    Frankly, I have little use for most vamp/lycanthrope fiction, but I thought I'd play devil's advocate. From a ecological perspective, I could see tham as natural enemies.
     
  16. TheFedoraPirate
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    TheFedoraPirate Contributing Member

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    I could. In fact, I prefer as little character/place description as necessary. Tell me what I need to know, then move on to the action.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I love good description. It's very powerful.

    But, as a certain arachnoid superhero is fond of saying, "With great power comes great responsibility."

    If it's used less than judiciously, it becomes a liability.
     
  18. Kaij
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    Kaij Senior Member

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    Ah, but this goes back to it being a cliche, in my opinion. If both vampires and werewolves killed humans, I think there may be a dramatic decrease in the human population, and a burst within the two species'. Personally, to me, werewolves have both a human and a wolf side. Wolves don't eat humans all the time. Perhaps when they are starved, or being threatened the may attack. Now, the full moon may change this, depending on the story.

    That's just my outtake, though.
     
  19. wildflower
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    wildflower Member

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    at the risk of causing offence i'm going to make my own opinion on this heard here. Every person on this form can be accused of being an amateur at some point or making the mistakes listed above. That's why most of us are here, to learn to be better writers

    I don't think its just them who are guilty of cliches either
     
  20. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Beautifully said.

    Whoops, there goes another one.
     
  21. scribbledhopes
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    scribbledhopes Member

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    You make a point Wild,

    We are all at one time amateurs, some of us are still in the spot, but we are working on it. I would hate to find a thread like this discourage or intimidate a young writer from throwing their hat in the ring. Being a young writer I would like to voice that.
     
  22. ChimmyBear
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    ChimmyBear Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I was taking my writing class last semester, those exclamation points were every where. I have to laugh because when I am writing here, on the threads, I use them constantly. I don't know why...I think I just got into that habit. However, when writing a paper or story, I understand you simply can't over use them.

    It is interesting, the writers always argued that they felt excitement and this is why they used them...repeatedly. If I made a suggestion they would become angry. It was exhausting and I actually got to a point where I refused to review anymore papers.

    My biggest turn off would be sloppy writing, poorly used grammar. I find it fascinating, that so many students in my classes can not put together a properly written sentence and I am talking second and third year college students. How does this happen? Everyone of us isn't above a mistake or two...or three; furthermore, I would never fault a person on a mistake, but it gets next to me when pride overcomes good sense.

    Now, with all of that said...I do have to ask, at what point are we, as writers, no longer amateurs? When we are published? When we have written for "X" amount of years? That is just a question?
    I think, mostly all of us fall in the "amateur category". :)
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well the question was not whether we consider ourselves above amateur status, but rather what writing habits light a big neon sign, "Amateur Writer On Board."
     
  24. Gone Wishing
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    Gone Wishing Contributing Member

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    That's the million dollar question, so to speak. ;)

    The word 'amateur' actually has a couple of different definitions - though more commonly it is used to describe someone that is either unskilled or a beginner in their chosen pursuit, or both.

    Traditionally, the word - as far as I know - was actually used to describe someone that did something for the pleasure of it, rather than seek it as a profession.
     
  25. ChimmyBear
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    We are thinking alike here Mack...after posting, I looked up the word for it's exact meaning...it does give a fresh perspective on the term "amateur writer" doesn't it? And as such, it is a bit difficult to become annoyed at someone who is writing because of the sheer joy they receive when putting words together on paper...;)
     

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