Make It an EPIC Fail! (Snark Alert.)
Dear Aspiring Author,
I know how eager you are to post your shiny new book on the Internet and then enjoy the delicious anticipation of bad reviews and worse sales, but hold off just a wee bit longer and check to make sure it has the following qualities. I've read a lot of slush, done a lot of critiques, and trust me, inclusion of any or all of these are your guarantee of not an ordinary fail, but the much sought after EPIC FAIL!
Do a global search for "eye" or "eyes." Are your characters really looking at each other? Do you have at least 300 mentions of eyes on your 250 pages? Are their eyes darting around the room, following someone around, glued to someone's face? Then FIX that! Eyeballs are flexible acrobats! They roll, fly, rise, and drop to the ground with the ease of a Cirque de Soleil artist. Lean into that!
Look for "watched," "watched as," "looked and watched as," turned and watched," "turned and looked and watched..." Oh, golly, I can't tell you how much editors LOVE seeing those in a book. Don't just describe what's there, make sure your protag looks at it and watches it!
Make sure you open with a DREAM SEQUENCE! It can be anything, the possibilities are only limited to your imagination. It can be a good dream, of course, but nothing like a crazy, surrealistic nightmare to get that first page bogged down to a standstill. Think of all the other writers who have carried on this long tradition. I know you can't name any since you probably didn't buy their books, but that's what EPIC FAIL is alllll about!
If a dream sequence isn't quite the thing for an opening, then having the protag WAKING UP is an excellent alternative. Double fail points if they wake with a hangover and disoriented AFTER a dream sequence!
Are your descriptions interchangeable with an FBI wanted poster? Don't get creative on this! Make sure you provide height, weight, eye color, hair color, visible scars, and a detailed list of what they're wearing. If more than one character is present do the same. Get those boring introductions front and center!
You went to a lot of trouble on names, right? You went through list after list to find just the *right* name for each character, I hope. Check them again, because you want lots of them to not only start with the same letter, but have the same number of letters. If that's just not possible, make sure the names rhyme! Or go off the deep end and makes sure each name is the most exotic you can find. Get crazy with consonants and apostrophes. Make sure to change the spellings from page to page -- that will keep the readers on their toes!
Fonts: make sure you have PAGES of stuff in italics. This works very well for dream sequences and flashbacks! Speaking of flashbacks: LOTS of those!!!
Data dumps: everyone wants to know the setup that made your story possible. If there's more data dump than story you're doing it right!
Be sure to not open when anything interesting is happening. Having a character staring out a window or taking a bath is a total interest-kill. If anything remotely interesting starts to happen, have a chapter break and start another plot line! How else are you going to fill up 400 pages?
Settings: please tell this editor that you filled page after page with detailed descriptions of the landscape, weather, the interior of a room, what someone is eating / wearing or that you skipped that altogether. There's no happy medium here for writers seeking the Epic Fail! You must have microscopic detail or none at all so your characters can float about in generic White Space.
Research: please, who bothers with THAT any more? This is especially true for anything historical or science-oriented. Do not let the laws of physics or actual facts of history limit YOUR writing! Make it all up, your readers will be in awe of your imagination!
Nookie: it doesn't have to be a delicately approached study in sensuality and love, just put in lots of it and in the most unlikely settings between characters with no chemistry. Triple bonus fail points if you're still a virgin! Go you!
Be sure to break the simplest physical action, like opening a door, down to the atomic level. Don't just have a character open and go through, spend a few paragraphs on which foot goes first, which hand turns the knob, the temperature of the knob, if their shoes hurt, are they about to sneeze, is it too hot/cold, what's on the floor? Make sure NONE of that has anything to do with the plot or a bearing on what's in the next room. Show off your ability to notice details!
Shift viewpoints often and with NO warning -- even within a single paragraph! It will challenge your readers to keep up.
Past tense is just too hard. Anything in present tense is a guaranteed fail, double fail points if it's in first person and shifts to third whenever you feel like a change. If some past tense creeps in, don't worry about it. Readers love variety!
Got word reps? Great. Those are the greatest things to have in a great story with great characters and even greater situations. Makes for a GREAT fail!
Dialog: check and make sure it is so dull that not even a reading by Ian McKellan can save it. A plain "Hello, how are you, I'm fine, how are you?" exchange right out of a foreign language phrase book is a comfort to readers. Don't challenge them or yourself.
If you have to have people chatting, long declamatory speeches are a good bet. Page long paragraphs of one character talking are the way to go. That, or make sure no line from one person goes with lines spoken by others. Make sure to have characters repeat what was in the narrative because a reader might need to be reminded. If a wall falls down, then have a character saying, "The wall fell down."
Don't forget attribution. Make sure to ID every single speaker, every single time, even when only two people are in a scene. You can do this by inserting meaningless gestures, or, if a male is saying something that's supposed to be funny, have him wink or waggle his eyebrows like Groucho Marx. Females can tuck strands of hair behind their ears.
Getting back to eyes--they can STARE a lot, too! Make this as dramatic as the end scene of a daytime drama.
When you can't think of how to conclude a scene or maybe you're just bored with it, start a new chapter! Or have your protag faint or get hit on the head. Concussions are easily shaken off and your protag will have a perfect memory of events leading up to the injury, just like you see on TV!
Finally, make sure to never ever bother with the spell check or fiddly bits like correct punctuation and grammar. Leaving them out is what makes reading such an adventure!
That's it for now, dear Aspiring Author; you get back to that manuscript and don't just fail, fail EPICALLY !!!