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Kaman Smith
Posted on Saturday, January 27, 2007 - 05:11 pm:   

What are some things that tell you clearly an amateur wrote a particular piece? Obviously, grammar/typos top the list. Another one is the pervasive use of passive verbs.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, January 28, 2007 - 03:01 am:   

Ummm. Actually, having seen some manuscripts of writers who are actually quite well known, I can affirm that typos and grammatical problems are probably just as present.

Also, in high-school and university I understand that passive verbs are discouraged, but in truth many of the best writers use them a lot. One great example is Zola.

I think there is way too much tendency to think about "good" and "bad" writing in terms of the things you mention, when in fact they don't have anything to do with it.

I think so called "amateur" writing might be that writing where the scenes are simply written out without being properly imagined . . . where those little details that make life interesting are lacking - mannerisms, details of surrounding, out of the ordinary thoughts.
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Don Mead
Posted on Sunday, January 28, 2007 - 06:15 am:   

Hi Kaman,

Brendan makes some good points; even the pros can appear amateurish. I'm the first to admit that I ain't no Hemingway, but I really had to struggle not to grab a red pen when I read one of Stephen King's books. Dan Brown in DA VINCI CODE pulls one of the oldest tricks there is in describing the character by having him look into a mirror.

Personally, I look for emotion. Truly effective writers convey emotion well. If a writer tells me what a character is feeling rather than conveying it through action and dialogue, that could considered an amateur (but fixable) mistake.
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SJ Pierce
Posted on Monday, February 05, 2007 - 10:06 am:   

I dislike putting good writing into a little box, in an attempt to hold it to any set standards. If the story is there, imaginative and clear in construction, and peopled with well developed characters, I am usually ready to let an author slide on a few technical points.

The things that do strike me as amateurish? Too much info-dumping (I am currently reading a beautifully written book by a burgeoning SF writer, and the only criticism I have so far is that he delves way too deep into the physics of his world's catastrophes... twice in twenty pages he's nearly lost me to astrophysics jargon). Characters whose dialogue is indistinguishable from one another without "he/she said". When the plot moves too fast, in the interest of building excitement (Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons"- odious, but I read it. The guy wakes up, in practically shanghaied onto an experimental plane and within pages is in Geneva... you're left saying, "huh?"). Improper use of exclamation points! Brian Lumley does it all the time, even after twenty books or so! It drives me nuts!
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Monday, February 05, 2007 - 02:41 pm:   

A manic-depressive roller-coaster; shall my story be submitted or not? Various postings give it hope, and others shoot it down in smoking flames. My faults and lackings are now becoming obvious with each successive SFWA topic read; whereas narcissistic bliss reigned before. I always detested english class, probably cause math was my better subject, tho maybe it was the teachers who didn't like my pain-in-the-ass presumptuousness and aragonasity. ;-) I still can't make a list of active and passive verbs correctly, nor write an entire story in first person without a he, she or it somewhere. (tho maybe that's not what second person means) I try to impress people by using big words, when little words can say things in a big way. (give it a few years, eh? haha) The flip side may be, the spirit of the writing is its saving grace. It flows through. If I can get myself out of the way, the flow is good, and so surprising and satisfying when done, it's got me hooked on writing. I can't please everyone, so some will be putoff by the abundance of 35cent words. C'est la vie de la guerre des nom des plumes. One of Heinlein's stories, "Podkayne"? , had 20 pages of a transit from Mars to Venus aboard ship that was rather tedious, probably much like being on a ship going from Mars to Venus!, mi olvidar los details. My take on the world is likely not in the vein of what Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine is looking for. This first story lacks action and suspense, it is a drawing room drama in the narrators head, with far too much pontificating. A likely novice entanglement naivete. So it goes ! As Delaney titled it in "Driftglass" , 'We, In Some Strange Powers Employ, Move On A Rigorous Line'. I am most enamored with the 'science' in sci-fi, and always liked the stories with the most intellectual depth where I'd learn something philosophical from the writer. And as someone famous once said, 'Heinlein got his science correct'.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Monday, February 05, 2007 - 11:48 pm:   

Lars -

I think sometimes people can care too much about what other people think. You should write what you want to write and not worry about it. Listen to yourself, not other people. At the end of the day your own opinion is the only one that counts - because you are probably the only one who really cares. Why not use big words? Unless you are writing for small children, I don't see the problem. My own works is often so full of jargon and big words it is absurd, yet it manages to get itself published somehow....So, I think the only rules are those you make yourself.
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Tuesday, February 06, 2007 - 05:13 am:   

Thanks Brendan,

I have been going over it 5-6 times already and expunging verbal and grammatical gaffs, awkward wordy phrasial construction idiosynchronisities and other personal inventions, and clearing up my overuse of commas, and exclamation points ! , and excessive use of extra spaces . Like a scruffy urchin it's almost ready for sundayschool. (the april 2001 F&SF unperiodical issue might be so JamesJoycian in its flow) .

A new MacBook is supplanting the Gateway W98 moo-tower computer for summer portability, but the OSX.4 is not well understood for how to do much stuff yet, any tips on how to print without a time and date stamp, to get page numbers in the upper right corner, change fonts and type size (18 makes it readable on the screen) and other stuff? Compatible printer will arrive in a few days, so I'm in forced restraints presently! , to go crazy soon. Over the last 4 years the idea of writing instead of doing construction and handyman work arrived, and several story ideas have been simmering. One of those will have me struggling with the problems of plot, dialogue, characterization, scene and time flow, and Thud and Blunder! Pohl Anderson and C.M.Kornbluth were always a good pick for an exceptional collection of short stories, my favorite form of writing to read, and now perhaps perchance to dream, to write. And the perennial struggle to exercise personal political views from the proceedings. F&SF is not a personal soapbox! but how will the next generation learn values, morals, ethics, and citizenship? if not from us?

And yes, Da Vinci Code, I suspect was 'over edited' and lost its inspiritive energy or creative flow. It was 'cardboard'. The great locations of historical nature, the history of Paris, and of course the radical? theory of the main thrust was what kept interest. Like Spengler in Asia Times, I agree that reading it was a danger lest the authors writing style ruboff.

I need to check my work to make sure I didn't lift a sentence from Harry Harrison, or a character name from Heinlein, as well. And how does one spell dereggeure? Questions of a thousand dreams, it's 5am, a good and early start for the day! Caio
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James A. Ritchie
Posted on Tuesday, February 06, 2007 - 09:09 am:   

In the end, there's only one person who can shoot a story down, and that's the editor of the magazine you submit the story to.

I've seen many a story that critique groups hated, but that editors bought first time out.

Just my opinion, but I think writers need to write stories they would love to read, and then send those stories to editors, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
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Matt Hughes
Posted on Tuesday, February 06, 2007 - 10:44 am:   

Just my opinion, but I think writers need to write stories they would love to read, and then send those stories to editors, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

That's what I've done. It seems to be working.

Matt Hughes
Majestrum
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John Schoffstall
Posted on Tuesday, February 06, 2007 - 09:58 pm:   

Doris Egan, novelist and scriptwriter (House), on the importance of writing about what you want to write about: Potato Chips.

"I'm saying, open the door that excites you, not the one you think you have to."
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James A. Ritchie
Posted on Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - 12:43 pm:   

"That's what I've done. It seems to be working."

From what I've read of your work, it seems to be working very well, indeed.

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