Six Mistakes

I could start with the Brickyard race yesterday and do a Tony Stewart impression about the tire debacle, but everyone else is doing it. It's so not cool to be one of the pack, so I'll let it go. Wish A.J. Allmendinger had won - the lad raced in the top 10 all day, and at one point was second. That would have been quite a story. The best thing we can do is pretend the race never happened and look forward to Pocono. All I can say is, I'm so grateful we didn't drive to Indy for the race this year.

Actually, I'd like to review Joseph Finder's "Six Mistakes" talk at ITW. He made great points about how a book can go wrong. Mind, these notes are what I got out of what he said, so nothing is verbatim and may, in fact, be way off base. But this is what struck me as worth writing down:

First, ask yourself if you have a passive hero. A hero has to advance the story and change things. Well, Duh! But you'd be amazed at how often I see this mistake in beginners.

Second, don't write a long setup. We writers like to introduce everyone with infinite care, but Finder' s point is that we can get to know the characters through action.

Third: Don't start the story too early. (A personal note: I have to do this, because I need about forty page to feel comfortable. But I cut those forty pages in the first rewrite. I know it's a waste of time, but that's how my process works.)

Fourth: Avoid the weak second act. Things must escalate. The hero has to fail then recommit to the struggle. Introduce subplots in Act II.

Five: Predictability. Don't underestimate your readers. Don't let them figure it all out. One of my observations: a very well known suspense writer makes this mistake. I can tell you before I turn the page what the next scene will hold and what's going to happen. Can't finish any of the books because they're so predictable.

Six: Lousy endings kill a book. Make it have symmetry. Don't make it too short. Add a good twist if you can, one that arises from the seeds planted before in the story. Then don't linger too long at the party.

Seven: (a bonus) Don't show off and lay out all your research just because it's cool and you went to all that work. Use just enough to show that this is the real world.

And general observations from Mr. Finder: don't make the mistake of having all plot and no people. No one cares about abstract threats. Back story dumps are anathema - add the back story in tiny slivers, giving the reader a reason to care for the characters. Avoid boring action scene. Make them exciting or leave them out.

Very good talk. You can buy CDs of this one, as well as the others, from ITW.