Writing is hard. Writing well is close to impossible. But as a teller of tales, a professional liar (a novelist or fiction writer of any sort), one chooses to buck the odds and try to write something terrific each and every time out of the box.
Again, you most definitely won't do that (Shakespeare did write Timon of Athens, for example), but the intent is there. So I'm here to help.
It's easy to fall into little patterns, to loosen the reins just a little while writing a story, especially one of novel length. You'll deal with that detail later, except you don't. You'll close that plot loophole in the next draft. But you're exhausted after this draft and have forgotten what the problem was, anyway.
So. Here is a danger list. This is meant to set a little red light off in your mind when you see the following phrases or plot elements in your own work. When you do--and you will--don't put off for tomorrow what you have to do right now. Fix these things immediately. It's usually fairly easy, and will make your writing better, which will give you more confidence, which will make your writing better still. So let's get to work:
You Know You're in Trouble If:
- Any chapter ends with, "If I had only known..."
- Your character has to do something REALLY STUPID in order to make the ending work
- Your entire second act is your main character talking to suspects
- Your villain explains the whole thing while holding the main character at gunpoint
- Someone says, "Now here's the plan..."
- The victim is killed by a poison that can only be found in Madagascar... but dies in Queens
- You're on page 298 and YOU don't know who did it
- You're writing in the voice of a 24-year-old and you can't name one hip hop artist
- Your main character is named "Main Character"
- You actually consider the use of amnesia as a plot device
- The killer's motive is "s/he is really crazy"
- You're more interested in the kind of gun used than the person using it
- Your protagonist can't go more than two pages without mentioning philately (or knitting)
- Your idea of a perfect cover image is your name in huge letters
- The victim is a perfect saint--and there are at least nine people who wanted him/her dead
- You think you're giving us character detail by saying the suspect drives a Misubishi Mirage
- You write the line "hold it right there"
- A random scene takes place in London so you can write off your UK holiday
- Your factual research is called "Wikipedia"
- Your tough-as-nails cop tell your amateur sleuth all about the case when asked casually
- DNA analysis is available the next day
And if you think I haven't used a good number of those devices, well, you're adorable.
Pitchers and catchers report in 25 days.
P.S. Congrats to the nominees for the Lefty Award: Donna Andrews, Tim Hallinan, Jess Lourey, Cindy Sample and Diane Vallere!