Reading can teach you the wrong way to write.


I WISH I COULD read for pleasure.

But I can’t.

Those times have passed me by.

Novels have become my textbooks.

I read to learn.

What to do.

Just as importantly, what not to do.

Why did an author say that?

And why did he say it that way?

How is he building his characters?

Does the dialogue work?

Does the conversation sound real?

Where does the plot go from here?

Why didn’t he fill that hole in the story?

And I wish I could write that way.

I pay attention to the way an author slams his nouns and adjectives together.

They should sound like a clap of thunder.

When they don’t. I begin to worry about the writing. If an author is strong with one paragraph, he should never be weak with the others.

With all of this reading, with my obsession to tell a better story, I keep running across the same old things that annoy the hell out of me.

One: Beginning the novel with the weather: The day broke clear and sunny with only a few wisps of clouds overhead, and he smiled at the beautiful young girl walking past his driveway.

Tells me nothing.

I’m disappointed.

Should I keep reading?

I’m bored already.

He could keep the weather if he had only written: The day broke clear and sunny with only a few wisps of clouds overhead, and he was still smiling at the beautiful young girl walking past his driveway when she paused a moment, smiled back, removed a 9mm pistol from her purse and shot in twice, the second time pressed against the back of his head.

Now I’m hooked.

Why would a beautiful girl on a sunny day do such a dastardly deed?

Two: When everybody has to say good night or goodbye.

“Good night, mother,” the child said.

“Good night, dear.”

“Good night, daddy,” the child called across the hallway.

“Goodnight, sweetheart,” the daddy called back.

Wouldn’t it be better if the author simply wrote: They said their good nights, and the room went dark as mother switched off the light in the hall.

Three: In the same vein, I am annoyed by introductions.

“Tom, I’d like you to meet Gerald, my attorney.”

“Glad to meet you Gerald,” Tom said.

“Gerald, this is Tom. He and worked together in El Paso years ago.”

“My pleasure, Tom. And who is the young lady?”

“Tom, I would like for you and Gerald to meet Sophie. She and I are already planning our wedding.”

“Glad to meet you, dear,” Tom said.

“Likewise,” Gerald said.

“I’m so pleased to meet you both,” Sophie said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

Wasted days.

Wasted nights.

Wasted words.

Wasted my time.

As a reader, I’m sorry I met any of them, and I’m already looking for another novel where the characters know each other, or the author can write: By the time they reached the restaurant, Gerald and Tom felt as though they were old friends and quite smitten with the young girl Frederick intended to marry.

Four: Prolonged fights. Jefferson hit him first as he came around the corner, and David went down to his knees. Jefferson hit him again, and David rolled against the brick wall of the pool hall. David rose slowly to his feet and slammed Jefferson in the stomach. The big man wheezed and staggered back. David drove his shoulder into Jefferson’s chest and both men tumbled to the ground.

At this point, I fear that the fight may go on forever.

I’m ready to walk off and let them fight as long as they want.

I’d rather the author write: Jefferson’s first blow knocked David to the ground. It was the only punch he landed. David came up amidst the garbage cans with a shovel in his hand. One swing to the back of Jefferson’s head, and David walked out of the alley bruised and alone.

Long drawn-out fights work in a movie, perhaps, but not in a novel, at least not in a novel I’m reading or about to quit reading.

In a good story every word counts.

Never use more than you need.

And don’t throw the good ones away.

Please click the book cover image to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his books.


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  • Caleb,
    It’s a never-ending pursuit of the best way to do things. I’m right there with you. It’s also one of those things writers do when thy are really serious about getting better at what they do. Wasn’t it Sandburg who said when he was about ninety that if he had a few more years to write, he might get pretty good at it.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You’re right, Stephen. The writing process never ends. The day an author is satisfied with his work is the day he or she should give it up.

  • At this point in my reading career, and reading as a writer, when I run into these constructs what I do is add that author to a list of people whose work I won’t read.

    Life is too short.

    The good thing is that, if I’m noticing these things in someone else’s writing, I probably have already trained myself not to do them. So, noticing gets a little smile and a mental Phew!

    The good side is that I also now notice how smoothly some authors write, and how easily they slip the information into my mind – I’m reading The Quick Red Fox, a Travis McGee story, and literally savoring his words, noticing things I might not have noticed before, enjoying MacDonald’s mastery. They have held up very well.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      To me, Alicia, the problem comes from big-time authors writing for big New York publishers. It seems as if they have carte blanche to write wrong.

  • jack43

    Good night, Caleb

  • Darlene Jones

    Robert Sawyer: “Say it once and get on with the story.”

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I like Robert Sawyer already.

  • Natalie Shannon

    Caleb, there are some people who enjoy the “blow by blow” details of fight scenes. It makes the fight scene more realistic. Especially for people who have knowledge of martial arts. Beleive it or not, some people only read novels for the action packed fight scenes.

    Sorry but if an experienced fighter read that scene, they would laugh at it. Where did David get the shovel? Did he pull it out of his butt? Was it just lying on the ground just for him to pick it up?
    Here is some advice, don’t criticize something that you have knowledge about. If someone writes about fight scenes and has no idea what actually happens in a fight, they will look stupid.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Natalie: I’ve looked stupid before and will again. But I still get bored with fight scenes. However, I do respect readers who loved the action.

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