Things Not To Do: Fiction Writing Edition

Well, I was really hoping to write a nice long post for the What I’m Reading series at Modern Mrs. Darcy, where Anne and her readers talk about the books they’ve read recently, on the 15th of each month.  I’ve read a whole lot of new-to-me books this year, because having viral bronchitis for the entire month of January, then having a new baby in May and doing lots of breastfeeding, gave me plenty of time for reading–and it seems that a new baby makes me want to read books I haven’t read before.  But now that I’m back to work at my full-time job, as well as taking care of my baby and 9-year-old when I’m at home, I don’t have a lot of time for writing!  Maybe next month…

Meanwhile, I’m going to rant about two things that happen far too often in the novels I read.  (I won’t rat out specific books, though, because both of these are late-in-the-plot twists, thus spoilers.)  If you are an aspiring author, please avoid these irritating cliches!

1. …because she was MAD!  Mad, I tell you!

There isn’t really such a thing as just being “mad” or “crazy”.  Mental illness comes in different varieties, each of which has its own internal logic.  It’s fine with me if a character isn’t literally diagnosed with a specific mental illness, but what the character is thinking and how he perceives the world should make sense in his own mind, and this sense should be expressed in the character’s words and actions, so that there is a method to the madness.  Otherwise, it’s just a cop-out: The character says and does strange, random things, perhaps wildly evil things, and you’re building up this big puzzle of WHY, and then finally 20 pages before the end you’re like, “Turns out he was MAD!  Totally bonkers!  Bet you didn’t see that coming!  It explains everything!” except it actually doesn’t.  Such lazy, haphazard depictions of mental illness just drive me…oh, I was about to say “insane”.  Oops.

2. A female of childbearing age experiences nausea.  This means she is pregnant.

Okay, yes, it happens.  But women also experience nausea for many other reasons, many of which could be more interesting in a novel, because although pregnancy is fascinating and children change our lives, “suddenly they had to confront the reality of impending parenthood” is a plot twist that’s been done so many times, you really need to do something new and different with it.  Also, if you want to signal that a character is pregnant, there are less disgusting ways to do so, many of which are realistically available earlier in the process–for most women, nausea doesn’t strike until about four weeks after conception, yet in books and movies it’s sometimes depicted as starting the morning after the fateful encounter.  Anyway, does anybody really want to read vivid depictions of nausea?  I know I don’t.

If you’ve read good books with a really different, original spin on the above plot twists, please post a comment.  I’ll be making my Christmas list soon!

Stay tuned for a “What I’m Reading” post any month now!  Meanwhile, click “books” at the bottom of the article or in the sidebar for book reviews I’ve written in the past.

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

6 Responses to Things Not To Do: Fiction Writing Edition

  1. Abby Chen says:

    Try ‘Mill River Recluse’ which covers both of those topics in a more interesting way. I found it at our local library!

  2. Sarah says:

    Ha, the only thing worse is current television, I think. Same nausea = pregnancy trope, though “She was mad” is usually replaced by “The secret is…he’s really her FATHER!” I can’t tell you how many nights my husband and I have a conversation that goes, “Wait, why did they just [insert totally nonsensical plot point here]?” “Because it’s TV.”

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