ᴀssᴏʀᴛᴇᴅ ᴡʀɪᴛɪɴɢ ᴛɪᴘs


(Alternate title: an assortment of irritants that you should very definitely avoid)
Hello, there :> I thought about doing this post for a while, and I've finally got around to it. This can either be viewed as a list of personal grievances with things people do when they write, or a list of tips to help do it better! Make of it what you will.
Also, pretty much everyone ever will have made these mistakes. I have, and I still do, and then I normally slap myself upside the head when I realise my sins.

1. Remedial grammar.
Because it's the number one thing that people do wrong, and seeing it done wrong is a little upsetting. Observe and remember: Alice's crash course in grammar.

It's: short for 'it is', or 'it has'. (It's really annoying when people use apostrophes incorrectly)
Its: possessive, belonging to it (A leopard can't change its spots)

There = Indicates location. (There you are! Over there!)
Their = possessive, belonging to them. (It's their cake)
They're = short for they are. (They're eating my cake :( )

Your – possessive, belonging to you. (It's your cake)
You're – short for you are. (You're talking absolute flummery today)

2. Description, and over-description
Over-description is, quite possibly, one of my biggest pet peeves. Some description is fine, of course, otherwise your story would be pretty bland. So make it interesting, don't use clichés - be imaginative. The hallmark of the beginner writer is poor description, or over-description. Looking over my old writing from the age of twelve (a dark time for most people, to be fair) I can see that I was just as guilty.

You do not have to describe every little thing. You especially don't need to take two paragraphs to describe a character, particularly a main one. It's not necessary. No one cares precisely how tall they are, exactly what clothes they're wearing, or how poetically you can describe their eyes. Yes, description is fun to write, but be honest with yourself - you can give a character an introductory description in one line, and then you can slip the rest in throughout the story. You can do it imaginatively, too! No more reeling off all their attributes (read: stuff people don't care much about) one after another in a long and boring list.
(This wonderful example has been donated to my blog by my friend Dominic, as apparently my joke description wasn't funny enough. Read and weep. Enter Fuschia Moonclaw Garnet Naruto Maw-Sit-Sit Raven Never Smiles Smith-Jones)

She strolled through the spacious, sixty-seven-roomed mansion complete with thirty nine bedrooms, all of which with ensuites, seventeen bathrooms and a multi-disciplinary swimming pool. The walls were still drying, having had a fresh coat of magnolia just that very morning; allowing the rooms to be as airy and spacious as she liked.
Her shoes, cherry red with extremely long heels, click-clacked across the mosaic-tiled floor, reminding her of an evolutionarily beautiful business woman that she'd seen on her thirty-seven inch plasma screen TV when she had been a blonde, curly haired, chubby eight year old girl.
She deposited herself on one of the nearby seats; a beautiful sculpture of white leather that would have cost her a pretty penny had it not just fallen out of the sky one day; providing her with the comfort and security that a man had never been able to bestow upon her.
Yes, she supposed, it was unfortunate that she was as unlucky as she was. But with the white leather seats and fresh-smell of magnolia paint, she could not be sad. Not today. Sadness never ended well for her. 
"Oh, Chives!" She cooed, careful so as to not smudge her freshly applied elephant-tusk-red lipstick.

(Fuschia Moonclaw Garnet Naruto Maw-Sit-Sit Raven Never Smiles Smith-Jones is, of course, meant to make total sense at all times. Anyone who doesn't like her character is obviously just jealous of how perfect she is, or is racist against Munchkin Princesses. Or wants to usurp her throne. But she doesn't mind because she's so humble and kind to everyone. Gosh, I wish I was as awesome as her.)

Of course, instead of this tripe, you could do something different for their introductory description. Have them catch sight of themselves in a shop window or mirror; note a mass of scruffy blonde hair and a pale and peaky face staring back. Later on you can slip extra bits in - polished fingernails, chapped lips, high cheekbones, a Roman nose. Whatever takes your fancy. Zero in on one or two of their features at a time, don't try and do it all at once. Focusing on a flaw of the character is a good way to go about it - a crooked nose that looks like it might have once been broken, wonky teeth, or anything else. It makes it human. Why focus on perfection, when imperfection is so much more real and fun?

There are some exceptions to what I've said above, of course. Description is fine when it contributes to creating an atmosphere, or is central to the plot.

Outfit description – if the character is putting on a one-time outfit that is particularly special (a lavish ballgown, for example, to go to a party that is important to the story) then you can describe that from their point of view. You just don't need to do it for every little thing they wear.
Character description – you -can- get away with longer descriptions of other characters from the point of view of your narrating character. Normally you should keep it brief - 'the other girl was tall and stocky, with a shock of ginger hair and a nasty grin' but if the character is particularly unusual, go deeper. I say this because one of the characters in my shorts is a human-like robot, and her description is from the point of view of the psychologist who will study her development. Because the robot is not human and is completely alien to May, she gives a much more in-depth description of her. I comment on her factory-smooth skin, skin a single blemish or mark - and how she makes May's own skin crawl. She's real and yet not real, flawless and yet horribly, uncannily imperfect - all at the same time. Deep in the uncanny valley, this one ;>

Anyway, getting back to it. Here's a checklist of what to avoid during descriptions.

Overlong descriptions, especially of main characters, are pointless. One sentence should do, with other bits slipped in throughout the story (ie, in conversation with others 'you're a scrawny little squit, aren't you?')
Focus on the flaws that make them human, rather than how beautiful they are. A broken nose, bitten nails, wonky teeth – all make your descriptions more alive!
Don't use poetic terms all the time, especially not cliché ones. No hair falling like waterfalls, no eyes described as gemstones. Every fool with a notebook and pen does that, and it's at once cliché and Mary-Sue-ish. (more on Mary-Sues in my upcoming character development post! Stay tuned!)
Don't be afraid to let the reader's mind fill in the gaps! It's better to paint a picture in their subconscious rather than just tell them your character has 'raven locks' and 'azure orbs for eyes'.

2.5. Using -ly words
I know, more angsting over description. But this deserved its own point. Observe, if you will. Fuschia returns.

"Chives!" Fuschia said frustratedly, "Do hurry up!"
"Yes, madam," Chives said happily, quickly passing Fuschia her drink. Fuschia sipped it boredly, relaxing on her chair. There really was so little to do, she thought sadly, for a Munchkin Princess who had just valiantly claimed her rightful throne. 

Grating, right? The flow is awful, and it reeks of amateur. The fact is, you don't need -ly words to describe verbs. The verbs describe themselves! Instead of having 'said loudly' you can have 'shouted' 'yelled'. Instead of 'yelled crossly' you can have 'snapped'. These verbs don't need extra, unnecessary description! You can use them occasionally (she said, quite calmly) but do your best to keep them down.

Oh, and for the love of God don't start making up -ly words. If you're using 'boredly' as a description, then there is no hope for you. I have a raging hate-affair with overuse of -ly words, especially those that were pulled out of thin air. The English language is vast and there are so many words to choose from – please don't bastardise it without good reason?

3. 'Favourite' words
I am absolutely guilty of this, I find it all the time when I edit my work! People often do this subconsciously, but it really needs to be corrected.

'Fuschia was so very tired. She'd had a very long day and her tiredness was starting to take its toll. It was very difficult not to drag her feet on the cobblestones as she walked. She had never been so tired before. Munchkin Princesses weren't used to being so very tired'.

Okay, that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Here the overused words were 'tired' and 'very', but they can be anything. Beautiful, hell, shadows, night... you just need to get the thesaurus out and swap some of them out for other words! It really affects the flow of the story, which is something I'm big on. The 'flow' of a piece of writing is really important because it can change the whole atmosphere of it – it can be dreamy, bitter, angry, regretful, tired-out. It's like painting colours, with words! It's art. Sometimes a single word can ruin the feeling you're trying to create, so you should choose another that fits.

'Fuschia was completely drained. She'd had such a long day, and her tiredness was starting to take its toll. It was difficult not to drag her feet on the cobblestones as she walked. She had never experienced anything like this before - Munchkin Princesses were hardly used to exhaustion.'

Still about Fuschia, but at least it reads better.

4. Edit, edit, edit!
Once you've done writing something, read it aloud to yourself to get a feel of the flow. You'll be amazed how many sentences don't work, are too long, interrupt the rhythm of the writing. You can leave it for a few days before going back to edit it, so that it's not quite so fresh in your brain and the flaws will be easier to spot.

Oh, and you will be needing to edit it. Nothing you write is finished the first time you write it, and if you think so you are wrong.
Out of interest, pretty much all my stories get at least five rounds of edits over a period of time before I call them done (it's why they take so damn long) and even then I'll keep going back and changing things.
Get other people to read it and edit it for you, too! And get them to be brutally honest. Unless you hear the ugly truth over a beautiful lie, how will you ever improve?

And I think that brings us to the end, for now! I have so many more pet peeves - misuse of commas is a big one, as is inconsistent characterisation, but I'll get to those another day.
I hope this post helped, at least a little! :> It took me quite a while to type up, so it had better. (;