Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Throwback... Wednesday.

I was just looking over something I wrote when I was in middle school, around eight years ago. So many laughable things. So many cultural references that didn't age well. So much awkward dialogue. All of the nonsensical moments that showed I really had no idea how the world worked.

Here are a few trends I've noticed from things I wrote in seventh grade:

-Really ridiculous names that I made up and for some reason thought were acceptable.
Like Mrs. Dunderead, or Joseph Landtro, who also went by "Jet Lawless" because he was the quarterback and all of the quarterback characters I ever wrote had flashy nicknames like that.

-Names that started with the letter K.
Katrina, Kaylee, Kyle... I just had a thing for the letter K, I guess.

-Characters who were bullied or who otherwise suffered from the wrath of the "popular" kids.
All the time. Even if the character in question was rich, friendly, and ought to have been one of the "popular" kids herself. This was a recurring thing in my writing, and I feel it had everything to do with the way TV shows and movies back in the day portrayed the bumbling teenage hero or heroine and the "popular" kids who were bound to be their antagonists. It baffles me how long it took me to realize that "popular" was not a good term for kids that everybody else hated. These movies and TV shows were all the experience I had about high school, so basically everything I wrote in a high school setting turned out cutesy and awkward.

-People who hiss things a lot
I had a creative writing teacher in middle school who taught a lesson one day about how much better it was to use creative verbs for dialogue instead of just using the tag "said" all the time. I still have very fond memories of this teacher, but basically every other creative writing teacher I've ever had has argued the contrary, and all of the books that are worth anything say the same. Unfortunately, since I picked up that habit so early in my writing career, I've had a hard time shaking it. I admit that my characters still hiss things sometimes, and it always sounds a little bit awkward.

-Many, many, many adverbs
Historically, I've used a lot of adverbs in my writing. And I never even imagined that there was something wrong with that until I had to read Stephen King's On Writing my senior year of high school. In one of the chapters in which King gives you writing tips, he tells you to limit the number of adverbs you use and try to use more descriptive verbs instead (although he admits that he, himself, is guilty of adverb use). When I read this, I was outraged. What on earth had adverbs ever done to Stephen King?! I filed this piece of advice away in my ever-growing "Stephen King Is Full Of It" file and continued to write as I normally did. At some point during that school year and in the months afterward, I began to notice how cutesy my adverbs made my writing feel. I tended to use them to make my dialogue tags sound more interesting (since I knew "hissed" wasn't good, but "said" still sounded too boring), and they made me sound like a really inexperienced writer. I've been getting better about the adverbs in the past few years.

-Sudden rainfall.
Rain that goes from zero to pouring in two seconds. No warning.

-Lots of cliches.
Cliche forehead-slapping, overused punchlines, scenes lifted out of every Disney Channel show ever (even when the shows were good)... A lot of the cliches were laughable.

-Strangely absent parents.
One reason that a lot of child protagonists are orphans is that the absence of attentive guardians makes it possible for them to go on their adventures. My protagonists' parents were not always dead, but they were often not around for dumb and nonsensical reasons, and they also didn't provide suitable caretakers to look after their children in their absence, leaving the child protagonists with much more freedom than any realistic pre-teen ever had (or should have).

-Characters who scream and yell things.
Lots of people screaming and yelling things. Like, come on, already. Inside voices. Stop freaking out. No wonder you're not one of the "popular" kids.

-Characters who gasp all the time.

-Characters who sigh all the time.

A lot of my writing issues in seventh grade boiled down to my lack of worldly experience. They say that you should write what you know, and I knew nothing about high school, but insisted on writing about it. Despite living in the world, I apparently also knew very little about how normal people talked.

But at least I was writing! The best way to improve your writing, as eight years of data suggests, is to keep practicing and to always experience or research something before you write about it.

There are some things in my old stories that are laughable just because they were outdated. For example, characters using Internet Explorer. By choice. Ha! "How the times have changed," Rebecca hissed, rubbing her hands together and cackling evilly at the unused Internet Explorer icon on her desktop.


  1. Please don't emulate Stephen King. Steve as I like to call him has never once written a satisfactory ending to a story.

    1. I haven't read a lot of Stephen King. It's hard to argue with success like his, but he's definitely not my favorite writer (No offense, Mr. King). Nevertheless, he was right about the adverbs, at least the way I was using them.

  2. It's not just me. Here is an interesting thread on good reads.