Why I Will Read Your WorkbyAnnOnymousFantasia©
I want to tell you what catches my eye and why, so you can incorporate it, if you wish, into your work. Naturally there are genres, fetishes and other topics that fall into the personal taste category that I do not read, and I won't get into; while they have bearing on whether I'll read a story, this piece is intended to provide insight for all writers.
Personal preferences aside, there is one major reason I select something to read. Titles and introductions to a story are very important, so when they have grammar and spelling mistakes, I rarely read the story. On occasion I will, if something catches my eye or I know the author's other works, but I'm a grammar snob. There are times when I do open the story, and the entire thing just seems choppy and unreadable to me. Then I think, "Even my e-mail has basic spell check. Couldn't this person have found something to help them?" When this happens I'm reluctant to read ANY stories that start out with such glaring mistakes.
I don't want to lecture on grammar, but now you know that I'm a grammar snob and since I am writing about the things I will and will not read, I will attempt to keep this as short as possible: I have a really, really hard time reading stories with bad spelling and grammar. There was one story I really liked, fought my way through it, and at the end, everyone else who had read it gave the author the exact same comments. I really didn't think I wanted to read the continuation of the story, but with so many comments I wanted to see if the author utilized them. Such vast improvements were made that I skipped dinner to finish what was written.
Before I go on, I will admit that I am not perfect. I may be a grammar snob, but someone who is a worse snob than me or had schooling outside of a U.S. public school system is probably able to pick up several mistakes I have made. That does not mean a person's work should be an incoherent string of words, with the possible exception of those people writing in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Also, I don't care who edits a story, be it the author or a second party. If I had my way, I would have writers understand why their pieces were being edited the way they were, but that's not going to happen, so I gave up caring.
Another thing I hate is when an author incorporates "you" into his or her descriptions. In this piece, "you" is acceptable because I am "instructing" you. If you are writing in the second person ("You walk through the door, avoiding the cat. Your shopping bags are heavy and you let them slide to the ground...") then obviously the word is appropriate. But in general, third-person past tense point-of-view, using the word "you" outside of dialect is something that should not be done. Consider these examples:
1.) "The night was quiet; you could not even hear the wind."
2.) "The night was quiet; one could not even hear the wind."
3.) "The night was quiet; even the wind was still."
I come across example one almost exclusively. In fiction writing, it should be considered incorrect. "You" as in the reader are not there even as an outside participant in any activities. Rather, "you" get to read about the events after the fact, and most readers feel this is true even when something is written in the present tense. As a writer, you should aim for the third example and avoid any mention of a person needing to be around to experience events whatsoever. If you can't do that (i.e. "The sun was so bright, it could burn through one's retinas") then replace "you" with a more anonymous "one."
Allow me to introduce the excessive use of words "it," "stuff," "thing," and whatever other vague, obnoxious references anyone else can think of. I think this piece is riddled with the word "it," which annoys me to no end because the word is so non-descriptive and meaningless. Your creative juices really get moving when you try to think of sentences and phrases to replace these non-words.
Let's continue with other aspects of writing. Like redundancy and clichés. I had an English teacher say that the line, "It was a dark and stormy night..." was one of the worst ever written. Why? Unless one lives in the Arctic Circle in June, night tends to be dark. It might not be stormy, but describing night as "dark" is fairly redundant. When a person keeps backtracking and reasserting what they have just written, a work becomes trite and boring, rather like reading a legal document, or something we had to write in college because the professor insisted it be 20 pages long. A story, however, should flow, and a reader who is interested will remember what you have to say without being told many times over. Not only that, but you do not need to add words; the simpler you can state something, the better. I am not advocating simple, boring sentence structure. I will give you more examples:
1.) "When people have spelling and grammar mistakes in their titles and introductions before I have even opened the story link, I probably won't even bother with it."
2.) "The titles and introductions to a story are very important, so when they have grammar and spelling mistakes, I rarely read the story."
The first example was what I had originally written in my first body paragraph and the second is the edited version. The second sentence uses fewer words, but says almost the same thing. It also states my intentions better with fewer ideas being introduced to the reader. In the first, the reader had to process 'people' and 'story link' which were unnecessary.
As for clichés, well, I think the world of erotica and trashy romance novels are among the worst when it comes to using them. I was reading a romance author's books, and by the time I had finished about four, maybe five, I was ready to write a parody using her characters while they insisted that everything had to be done using the same descriptions she used over and over (and over) again in her books. Not only that, but they were clichés used in practically every other romance novel I've ever read. I don't see a huge amount of romance novel clichés on Literotica, but the gamut runs (ack! cliche! make it stop!) from the obvious ("raining cats and dogs" or "seeing stars") to anything that could be turned sexual. Plenty of websites and books have lists of clichés to avoid.
Finally, nothing turns me off like historical, geographical, or just plain stupid inaccuracies. Borrowing from another story I just read was a really hot scene taking place circa 1100 AD in Europe, when the author mentioned a garment was made out of cotton. That totally ruined everything for me, because in addition to being a grammar snob I'm a history buff, and I know cotton was not introduced to Europe until after 1500 AD. There have been other stories, too, not necessarily on Lit, and not necessarily historical fiction, with glaring inaccuracies. An author must, MUST, be aware of time and place. If you really want to write about places and times you have never lived in, you should take enough interest to research them, first. Otherwise, you might do better writing about what is familiar to you -- not for lack of daring, but because this will make your story better. Your own experiences only enhance your writing since you can add descriptions to make readers feel like they are inside the story.
As far as stupid inaccuracies...this is why you should look over your own work. Sometimes people accidentally change a character's name midway through a piece. There are chunks of time missing, dialogue is all funky... I think this happens because an author gets so involved in the writing process his brain is moving faster than his hands, so the hands start making things up just to catch up. Whatever the reason, they confuse your audience and a confused audience is bad because they will give you low ratings.
Well, I suppose that is enough for now. I hope everyone can make use of my tips on how to improve their writing. There are so many stories here on Literotica that are good but just need that little push to make them great and so many authors with enormous but stagnant talent. I would love to see these people improve. Best of luck to everyone!
Quick Editing Tips:
~Wait a week, or at least a day, after you have finished your piece, then go back and read it again.
~Read your story out loud.
~Have someone read it for you before it is posted. Two or three people would be even better.
~While spell and grammar check don't always get everything right, and certainly not if you are trying to incorporate speech accents, it also doesn't hurt to run your story through once or twice.
~P.S. I put all my favorite Literotica writing guides on my favorites list just for you!