Writing Advice

Story Techniques to Avoid

Today we will take a look at some story techniques that don’t fare particularly well with the audience.

Too Many POVs.

This can significantly slow down the pace of your story and bore your readers. Too many POVs means there is less time for your audience to connect with the key characters in your story and you run the risk of your readers losing interest because they do not care about all of the other characters. This only tends to work in ‘epic’ series like Game of Thrones, but YA tends to focus on one central character because it’s through them that the reader connects with the story. Make sure you don’t keep on swapping between POVs every few paragraphs, that can be confusing and irritating, it also takes away from a scene, particularly during an action sequence. When using multiple POVs it would be best to switch perspectives at the end of a chapter or at least separate the two POVs by a page break. Always ask yourself if another POV is really necessary. A useful rule of thumb is to write the scene from the POV of the character who has the most at stake.

Deus Ex Machina.

It’s not satisfying. You’ve built up to a climactic scene and your protagonist and antagonist are locked in a death-defying battle. How will your hero get out of this, your reader wonders. And you as a writer wonder too. It’s tempting to have an outside force suddenly appear to solve all of your problems, and it will solve the problem, BUT you will lose a lot of readers in the process. A shining example would be the resolve of the love triangle in Breaking Dawn in which Jacob imprints upon an infant, Bella’s daughter. Was that a satisfying resolve? The end game of your story should have threads much earlier. This is especially important to remember when writing a series as opposed to a stand-alone. Before you finish the first book you need to have an idea how you will end the last one, a big example of how this was done well is in the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling had the end of the Deathly Hallows written long before she wrote the book and she was aware of the end game when she started writing the series, you can see the clues weaved in from the first novel alone. This is something you need to do with your own writing. Give your characters the power long before you reveal what it is.

Including a Love Interest Just for the Sake of It.

This happens when there seems to be no reason/no foundation for the love interest to arise from. Or the love interest is solely based on the other’s good looks and physical attraction. Time is required to build up the chemistry between two people, they need to go through hardships together, discover that they care for each other and be unable to comprehend the idea of losing one another. Readers can tell when you’re forcing a love interest down their throats. A lot of writers may think that publishers desire a love interest, and love triangles themselves have been very popular (among writers – not readers) – all because everyone thinks that it’s required of YA. Yes, romance is a big part of being a young adult and including a love triangle is a fantastic way of adding conflict and making the protagonist challenge their opinions on love, but often they’re done in a way that the outcome is obvious. We wrote an article last year on love triangles that might be worth looking at if you’re interested in writing them, a lot of the points covered in it could be adapted to include love interests in general when writing YA. Also bear one extra thing in mind, what genre are you writing? If your protagonist is usurping an evil empire, do you really think she’d be preoccupied with which boy is the cutest?

Killing Your Characters Just for the Sake of It.

Don’t just do it to evoke emotions from the reader and make them cry bucket loads. There are many reasons writers might want to kill characters off but without a doubt the two worst are, ‘to surprise the reader’ and ‘because they feel a death is needed as it reaches a climax’. Just because you’re on the last book of a series doesn’t mean you need to kill someone off, it’s not necessary, there’s not a rule stating that as a requirement. And if you make a habit of killing characters off ‘to shock the reader’ or because you want to write ‘the next Game of Thrones’ bear in mind that their comes a point your readers will expect characters to die. Because of this they’ll  no longer become as emotionally invested in the characters and thus the story. They’ll stop caring whether a character dies or not. You’ve spent a lot of time developing your character, why would you want to waste that by using them as a pawn to hurt your reader? Having so many deaths desensitises readers and robs your characters of the ending they truly deserve.

Overly Whiny Characters.

Having really annoying characters in your story can evoke emotion from the reader, but perhaps it’s not the best emotion that you want to get from your readers. It’s fine to have a despicable villain, in fact, one should aim to have an amazing villain – but it should be one that the reader loves to hate; rather than just hates because they are really annoying. There have been times when there are characters that are just being so unreasonable and annoying that we’ve stopped reading/watching a film because it was too frustrating. This is especially true of YA protagonists. Teenage girls are often described as ‘beautiful without knowing it’ and constantly whinging about anyone who calls them otherwise (and that’s before we get start on that teaching young girls that they shouldn’t view themselves as pretty). They whine about all these guys having crushes on them but spend half the book pining over them (*cough* Twilight) and they spend more time whining about the problem, than doing something about it. It would be good to see pro-active protagonists for a change.

Names That Are Too Complicated to Pronounce

It makes it rather difficult for the reader. When there is heavy punctuation (particularly apostrophes) in a name, it can make it difficult for your reader to process. It’s not natural to read a word like that and so if you’re reading it on every page, it can break the flow of the paragraph. It isn’t fair to your readers and it isn’t fair to your story. Science-fiction and fantasy are particularly guilty of this and it’s a way writers use to make a character’s name seem more unusual or ‘exotic’ but you don’t need to go overboard to do that. Look at the name, this about whether it fits with the setting of your story and if you’re not sure if it’s too complicated, show the name to a friend, ask them to pronounce it with no guidance from you. If they’re incredibly wrong, perhaps you might want to make it a bit simpler. Bear in mind names have to be reader friendly, after all, your reader will probably say their name hundreds of times while they’re reading.

What annoys you that hasn’t been mentioned here? Tell us in the comments below.

-Elizabeth & Nadia

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3 thoughts on “Story Techniques to Avoid

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