I’m reading fiction for Dogwood today, and here’s what I’m noticing in stories that strike me the wrong way. Some of these, of course, irritate me because I have done these exact things when I used to write fiction.
1. When a main character’s first problem is that he or she is bored.
2. Puns in the title. I love puns. But not in the title.
3. A flurry of people introduced in the first paragraph.
4. A flurry of people with trendy androgynous names in the first paragraph. Karp, Jae, Ren, Jasp, whatever. People often have dorky and awkward names in real life, not these little moments of sculpture. Don’t give them the names you wish you had.
5. A kid setting a fire for no reason.
6. Old people just being cute and old and wrinkly and forgetful. The whole story just old people sifting through documents and making phone calls.
7. People being rural just to be rural, and having ruralness as the main problem in the story.
8. The dreaded alarm clock in the first paragraph.
9. The dreaded recounting of a dream anywhere in the story. I’m sorry. But I mean it.
10. Surreal plot twists are fine, but if you’ve got that without interesting characters, it won’t work.
11. When the characters all know each other so well that they speak in quarter sentences and no one bothers to explain to me what’s going on. That’s not art, that’s lost.
12. A dead person on the first page. Many people LOVE murder mysteries, but I find life stressful enough without extra corpses to contend with on page one. Just a personal quirk.