Time for a literary autopsy!

Property of Brian Dettmer

So, I have posted three of my stories, each from a different time period on my authorial timeline. Now it is time to cut into them, excise the merits and failures, and splay the skin, flay the flesh of the words. Allons-y!

The first story, Sentinel, was the first complete story I had ever written when I was about 22, over ten years ago. It is juvenile, and hokey, but I loved its simplicity. The second, John Smith Writes a Book, was a bit more evolved as far as the prose, but the concept was lacking any real depth, and the ending was just plain weak. The last one I posted, Come Unto Me, is perhaps the most well rounded of the three, but still the work of a novice.

But, why? This is the hard part. For one, it is difficult to look at your own work and spot all the faults, and doing so requires the eye of an editor, not a writer.

Here I am, putting on my editor’s hat, and picking up the editorial scalpel in an effort to shed light on the hideousness of my writing. I do this in a valiant attempt to highlight the errors of the novice writer so that you, reader, can avoid the pitfalls I fell victim to.

Let’s start…

First, Sentinel. Essentiall, this is a story that was inspired by Edward Scissorhands, and The Golem, from Jewish mythology. I wanted to convey the idea of a character seeing the world for the first time. It was to be the first chapter of a fantasy novel, which never emerged due to the weakness of the story.

The tone of the story is that of a fable, so some of the juvenile quality can be forgiven, but not all of it. If I were writing a children’s story, that would be fine, but the diction is to elevated for that to be the case, so that falls on me.

Next, most of the sentences begin with a pronoun. I didn’t realize how alike my sentences were at the time I was writing this story, and failed to understand how varied sentence structure can add to the piece, and avoid reader burnout.

And, as Mr. Leonard states in his rules, I have way too many exclamation points. In fact, in this 2155 word story, there are 13. Egad.

Many of the sentences were in the passive voice. There is a time a place for the rare passive sentence, but I over-used this technique. Passive voice is a sure sign of the beginning writer. Why is that? My personal belief, and this is certainly true for me, is that the beginning writer is essentially dictating the action they see on the virtual movie screen in their mind’s eye. When one does this, the sentences will typically come out as, “There was,” “He was,” “The _____ was,” etc. This is okay for a rough draft, but never for the finished product.

And then, there is the melodrama. Perhaps Neil Gaiman could pull this off, but I certainly didn’t. Two sentences that just make me cringe are:

“He loved the feeling of the water hitting him from far above, but soon grew tired of being damp and wished that the sky would stop crying on him.”

And:

“And he and the crow grew to be good friends, spending their days together playing the laughing game.”

The sky crying on him?? The laughing game?? I seriously didn’t write that did I? What a douche. Yes, they are bad. Again, if this were a children’s story, maybe. But, as a short story for adults? Never. Ever.

The story is sappy and childish, with no real plot whatsoever, and the characters are merely caricatures. There is really nothing original in the story that makes it effective. I like a few parts. The dream, some of the prose, and I like the crow. But, that is really about it.

I thought about trying to do a line edit and rewrite of this story to show how I would do it now, but honestly, I’m not sure it can be saved.

What do you think? Are we on the same page?

In the next post, I’ll tackle the next story, John Smith Writes a Book.

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