Literary Autopsy #2: John Smith Writes a Book

That’s–that’s my s-story. I–I’ll burn down the building, I– My story…

Hello friends. Here is post #2 where I take a look at an old story of mine in an attempt to learn from it, just as a Pathologist performs an autopsy to determine cause of death.

Today, we are looking at John Smith Writes a Book.

The story was written tongue-in-cheek, and was meant to address that cliche person who believes they are meant to be a writer, and that the universe will align in their favor once they take the steps necessary to initiate their destiny.

The part about the call center is autobiographical to some extent, based on my experiences working in that type of environment. I too felt that if only I had the time to devote to writing that I would be a success.

Overall, the prose itself is pretty bland, and there is nothing that really makes the story stand out. The first failure of the story is the lack of unique voice for both John and the narrator. It reads flat, simply a litany of events held together by a flimsy plot.

Here is a prime example of what I’m referring to:

John went directly home and began writing.  He figured that now there was no other option.  He would have to write something worth buying.  He began working immediately.  Words began to flow across the screen, forming sentences, then paragraphs, then pages.  The only time he was not writing was for bathroom breaks, and to eat what remaining food was in his pantry.  Slowly the pages came together, and by the end of the week, he had completed the rough-draft of his novel.  There were 82,652 words, not including the title.  He sat back in his chair and looked at the screen of his old Mac and marveled at his accomplishment.  Never before had he been so focused on anything.  It felt as if the world had opened the doors to all of its secrets, and he alone was privy to their bounty.

The sentences are constructed awkwardly, some in the passive voice, and others just have a terrible rythm to them. Most notable is the lack of sentence variation. There are a lot of he sentences for such a short paragraph. These could have been written another way.

So, is there anything I like about this story? Ironically, my favorite part is the story’s weakest feature: the plot.

The ending is obviously foreshortened. This was intentional. I was going for more of an anecdotal feeling, like an old-timer recalling the story of a friend, giving it an almost fable type of feeling.

So true…

My goals with the story were to play with the cliche of writers writing about becoming successful writers, and then to turn it on its head. And, I wanted the irony of his memoir becoming a bestseller, that he lived a life worth living rather than chasing a dream that didn’t suit his talents.

Overall, I feel this story is more successful than Sentinel. It has a complete story, and more character development. It suffers, however, from my achiles heel, my voice. I do not like my writer’s voice. That is a post for a later time.

How about you? What do you see that doesn’t work? Awkward sentences, stiff and unrealistic dialog, weak premise, lack of entertainment value? Please, let’s pick it apart. That is the best way to learn. Let me know what you think.

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3 thoughts on “Literary Autopsy #2: John Smith Writes a Book

  1. I agree with the things you said about it- the repetitive sentence structure for one. The word “he” is there over and over again. It’s only been in the past few months that I started to pay attention to things like that- but it really does make a difference. Also, the passive voice as you mentioned could be changed in some sentences I bet, but I still have a hard time pinpointing that.

    Have you read “On Writing” by Stephen King? It’s super useful. I actually am not finished with it yet, but when he mentioned the passive/active voice, I had to take a few minutes just to let that sink into my head and realize that it DOES make a difference whether you say “the meeting will be held at 7” and “the meeting is at 7”. That was his example, anyway. It’s still hard for me to fully grasp, but it’s fun to think about!

    • Hey Jennifer, I have actually read On Writing, a couple of times. It was the textbook for two of my writing classes. His book is a great tool. I’m reading Gardner’s The Art of Fiction (which really digs deeper than the typical writing advice), and Brooks’ Story Engineering to help with plotting.

      I absolutely agree. Passive voice can be eliminated in nearly every case. When it is used, it should be done so deliberately. I do think there is a place for it if you are trying to achieve a certain affect with the prose, but only in rare cases.

      Certainly, as we begin to learn more about our craft, those aspects of writing become more important. At first, we don’t even know they exist, much less how to correctly utilize them! There is so much to learn that doesn’t always seem to be in the writing books. Just a lot of stuff that can only be learned through practice I guess.

      Thanks for reading. Cheers!

  2. Usually I don’t read post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very pressured me to take a look at and do so! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice article.

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