Mood Killers: Four Book-Throwing Offenses (and How to Avoid Them)

WritersdontcryYou knoRachel E. Morrisw what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there. You’re immersed, in the zone, and totally engaged. You can feel the damp stone, taste the stale air, hear the “drums, drums in the deep” . . . When suddenly, something banana yellow and comically out of place rips you out of the story and ruins it. You grimace, and try to start again, squinting to ignore that one part, struggling to not even think about it. But once there, the insidious mood killer gets under your skin. You keep waiting for it to reappear.  It’s like a stain on the whole book.

One of the main mistakes writers make here is assuming a captive audience. But readers aren’t captive—they’re captivated. And that is a state much easier lost than gained. Of course, it’s your book—you can do whatever you want. But think of the characters. And the readers. And the sound your book will make as it smashes against a wall and slides slowly to the floor, never to be picked up again . . .

It is a horrible sound. Trust me, you don’t want to hear it. So, what are these mood killers, and how do you avoid them? Glad you asked! I’ve collected four of my . . . erm, favorites here, along with ways to avoid them. Enjoy! And may your writing ever avoid the walls.

Your Darlings: You Know What to Do

Imagine this: you’re really digging the intensely romantic smolder your date has going on, when you suddenly realize they’re not actually looking at you: they’re checking themselves out in your glasses. Just as you realize this, they start flirting… with themselves. Take it from me: it doesn’t matter how smoking hot their smolder is, once it’s clear the only thing they’re into is themselves, it’s over.

Your darlings? Are the same thing. Allowing your darlings the luxury of life is giving into the temptations of self-infatuation. Sure, when you write for yourself, anything goes. Have at it. Indulge yourself. But when you write for an audience, don’t expose your darlings. Overworked turns of phrase, anachronistic or ill-timed witticisms, and out-of-character indulgences are the most common darlings. But the greatest offender by far is when  a writer--having spent countless hours creating a believable world brimming with life--feels the need to describe every leaf of every plant the hero passes, as well as what that leaf’s history is, what it can be used for, and what it symbolizes in the various cultures of the world.

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