Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Banned List #3

An occasional list of things that should be banned in creative writing ...

1. It was an easy mistake, but it brought terrible consequences ... Prior to the shocking event ... In one brief, awful moment, fate wreaked its terrible revenge ... In one doomed moment ... That fateful night ...

And all of the above in one page of story with not even a hint of what this dreadful event is except that it will, quite undoubtedly, be dreadful. Alas, any narrative tension or element of surprise the author was hoping to create has vanished.

When I come across writing like this, I image the soundtrack accompanying it to be of thundering, menacing chords on a pipe organ - Dah-duh-DAAAAAHHHHHH! Of course, when the vampire does rip out the throat of the protagonist, it comes as somewhat of a relief. Thank goodness! He's dead! Hurrah! Now, finally, I can stop anticipating this dreadful event which I was - frankly - bored silly waiting for.

2. The personification of inanimate objects. Well, I object. No, the cast iron stove did not wrap its warm, comforting arms around her. Nor was he pulled to the floor by the cruel hands of gravity.

3. Over-direction in bizarre detail. The hand which was attached to his heavily tattooed arm prodded the garments of his wonderment. With this left hand he then reached for his keys, whilst holding a bottle of lager between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, raising his left eyebrow quizzically at the door which faced due west in an apartment block built in the 1960s by Polish labourers, the handle of which had to be turned in the opposite direction to which you would normally assume as the lock had been fitted back-to-front, producing a sigh of exasperation from our hero (and our reader).


  1. Yes, yes, I know, BUT - and I've disputed this with a certain Mr Bennett too (who holds the same view as you, for a change) - is ALL personification of inanimate objects bad?

    Is the occasional 'glowering sky' to be banished forever? Must poets be smitten down for wondering 'lonely as a cloud'?

    Can curtains NEVER be cheerful, liver and onions menacing or buttons on keyboards depressed?

  2. We use metaphors and similes all the time in everyday speech to convey specific images; lonely as a cloud being but one. For example, "the biting wind": the wind has no teeth, but the verb biting expresses a sensation succintly.

    It's about the precision of the writing. "His mind fell into the roaring fire" - I bet it didn't. "The wind scratched the window desperate to share the blanket the fire was blazing out." The wind scratched the window is fine - the verb is active and animates the scene - but suggesting the wind has a consciousness and is "desperate to share the blanket" is over-writing!

  3. Hm. Think I've seen all of these things in some teenagers' writing this week ...

  4. The trouble being, Fran, that at school young people are encouraged to "overwrite" in order to earn more marks. Then at university, we spend three years beating it out of them! It was raised as a problem at last year's NAWE conference. The poor kids feel as if they've been filleted ...

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