Episode 184: Are you guilty of lazy writing?

On April 30, 2022, Kasie and Rex took on those classic writing class no-nos. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Cliches, idioms, and other wordly short-cuts

Agenda

  • What are “shortcuts” in writing?
  • When are they good?
  • When are they bad?
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Segment 1/2

There are a few kinds of literary short cuts and usually your English teacher just called it lazy writing. But it’s not always lazy, sometimes it’s just a faster way to communicate a bigger idea to people who know what you mean. Today we break down the kinds of short cuts and justify or reject them. As usual, there are no hard rules in this. It all depends on the phrase and the context.

Shortcuts:

  • Cliche — you know it when you see it, amiright? 
  • Idiom — examples including “beside myself” and “put out” which mean the same thing essentially — irrational levels of frustration or irritation — but are unique to specific communities and cultures.
  • Jargon — this is most often part of professional vocabulary; doctors “CDC, chem7” a common phrase on ER. What it means? No idea.
  • Slang — this can be a single word or an entire phrase (this blog uses “shit your pants” and I don’t understand why) Urban Dictionary tries to keep up with the slang, but if you’ve ever read a British writer referring to the “loo” or “knickers” and only knew what they meant because you’ve spent time in London, then you know what slang is.

So why do writers do it? According to this blog, it’s because we writers are focused on what we want and need, not what the reader wants or needs.

In this past Thursday’s Become an Author session with SCWA, our presenter talked about using local language, or fitting your references and examples to things your readers will recognize as regionally relevant. But one attendee asked if there was a risk of stereotyping when we do that. The speaker hedged around the answer, but truthfully, yes, that’s a huge risk.

It’s why these common phrases and cliches are so risky. Why they’re considered “lazy” — because they don’t require the writer to connect with anything unique or create anything original. They rely on commonality which, at best is similar, but at worst is vague and too general to be meaningful.

But, Kāsie, we talk like this, so why can’t we write it?

Well thats the exception, isn’t it? In dialogue! More on that in Segment 3. But first, The South Carolina Writers Association continues to be the best way to build your writing career in the state. With dozens of chapters organized regionally – Chapin/Irmo, Columbia I, II, and II all here in the area – and virtual chapters aligned by genre – short fiction, poetry, and romance among them – you’re sure to find a supportive group to share your work and get help on revision. Critique groups are essential for growing as a writer and the SCWA is a supportive, encouraging environment. Visit myscwa.org to learn more. 

Segment 3/4

SCWA has opened its digital journal The Petigru Review for submissions from SCWA members only. On May 1, they’ll begin accepting submissions from non-members. They have also opened registration for the Fall Conference in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. Ever been to a conference at the beach? It’s the best! Make plans to come and register at myscwa.org/events

I loved finding this blog with the subtitle “it’s a superhero movie is not an excuse” LOL let’s talk lazy storytelling. This goes beyond the language stuff and into structure, character, and arcs.

Breaking the rules: or having no rules. This happens when the story works outside of the bounds of established acceptable practices. Maybe it’s magic, maybe it’s politics, maybe it’s breaking the character’s character to have them do something the plot needs.

Contrivances: something far fetched, unrealistic, or so bizarre as to be sus happens in your story. Coincidences happen and they can be fun and funny, but consider the odds first and try to explain away the oddity at least.

Wishes suck! Or, having a story with wish-giving ability present is a no-no. I think this one is more about the Mary Sue effect – without a flaw, our hero is unlikeable and unrelatable.

No stakes: authors make this mistake frequently – either there’s nothing at stake or what is at stake is so minimal as to be unimportant. Think of the end of Cruel Intentions where the Sarah Michelle Geller character is shamed in front of her high school. So what? It’s high school. No stakes sometimes happens because the bad thing we want to (and should) make happen is just too hard to write our way out of.

Superfluous exposition: we’re going to do a whole show on what you, as the writer, need to know versus what the reader needs to know. Hint: they’re not the same thing.

Poor character development: motivations not fully explored, don’t have any remarkable traits, tics, or quirks, and their interactions with others only serves the plot, doesn’t develop an independent arc.
This should give us enough for an episode. But if not, we can always talk about what we’re reading.

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