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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Are You A Lazy Writer?

Last week I blogged about the traits of a great writer and this week my post is about lazy writing.

Lazy writing isn't always obvious, and can be hard to spot when you're in the throes of a manuscript, but the good news is most often it's easy to put right.

I have several favourite writers in my favourite genre of chick lit, but I have read several books by these authors which have been below par. I am left wondering why the books are mediocre when these writers are capable of so much more. Sometimes I think that maybe these writers are past their best and have now written too many books. Their newer work is often a rehash of their earlier work, and more often than not, I end up putting the book down.

So, how can you avoid lazy writing?

When I read a book repeated words and phrases leap out at me like a hologram. I once counted the same word seven times on the same page. And this book was penned by a best selling author who has made films out of their books. Word repetition is tedious and sends me straight to sleep. It smacks of lack of imagination; it's as though the writer can't be bothered thinking up different words. Writing shouldn't be like that. Writing should be fun and not a chore, and if the writer can't be bothered about thinking up new words, why should the reader be bothered to finish the book?

So when you've finished your manuscript get a red pen and make note of the words you love to repeat.

Also, I think writers need to be aware of giving their characters certain traits and then using the same trait throughout the story. Does your protagonist always snort while laughing or always scratch their head when confused? If they do, mix it up a little and make it fun for both you and your reader.

Do you always start each chapter describing the same weather conditions? Maybe your characters have the same place in certain scenes. Are they constantly stood by the kitchen window, or do they move around the room?

It's easy to get lost in the moment when you're writing. I do it all the time. But it's crucial to be aware of these things so you have a chance to fix them before you bore your readers to death.


  1. I've seen that happen with writers who became commercially successfully with a hit, then were contracted by a publisher to produce a few more hits in the same style. The difference between James Clavell's first breakout title, Shogun (1986), and his later works like Nobel House and Gai-Jin are quite dramatic, in my view.

  2. Hi Kenneth,

    Thanks for commenting. It's interesting that you've spotted this too, and what you say does make sense. It's like the author has the use the same words over and over in their stories. While I can understand their logic behind this, I wish it wasn't the case.

  3. I do agree that we as writers need to keep our stories fresh and interesting for our readers. However, I feel the use of traits in our characters helps to keep them unique and familiar to our readers. For example, the hero in my series bites his lip when he is nervous or upset. My readers have come to learn that, when Mitch is biting his lip, he's obviously struggling with his emotions for some reason. I don't have to go into great detail then to explain how he's feeling because the reader knows by his action. It's something that is unique to him. I think the key here is not to overuse it, but it's okay to repeat it in different parts of the story. We as humans have character traits that make us who we are--some might yell when angry while other keep quiet; some might twist a strand of hair or wring their hands if nervous, etc. And that is something that happens most every time they are in a particular situation or feeling a particular way. To do this with our characters, I feel, keeps them realistic and familiar to our readers, especially if they appear in more than one book. Just my opinion. Thank you for an excellent post with tons of useful information. Wishing you continued success in your writing, and looking forward to future posts!

  4. No argument from me, Debbie. Recurring characters like Ian Fleming's Bond, Conan Doyle's Holmes, and your hero must remain consistent throughout different adventures. They should exhibit the same tics, behaviors, and speech patterns. What I take as symptoms of lazy writing are writers who recycle the same plot device, plot twist, dilemma, and (in the worst cases) even descriptive sentences. That's when I worry the writer is halfheartedly churning out a book, not really taking the time to develop something fresh.

  5. Hi Debbie,

    Yes I agree with you there on character traits - they can be useful when used in that way. What you don't want to do, however, is make every character have the same trait when placed in a particular situation. I've read books where 5+ characters have all been doing the same sort of thing when placed in certain situations.

  6. thank you! I thought I was the only one getting a little frustrated with books by best selling authors. Very few have been able to keep up to their own standards, let alone the reading public. I discovered when they get to a certain stage in their career (read: $$$) they won't let anyone touch their manuscript and it goes to print as is...unfortunately, not only is this acceptable practice by the publisher but their work suffers for it and they start to lose readers. Don't get me wrong. I truly want to be there but I don't want to lose the magic, either.

  7. Hi LK:
    Very good points, here. Lazy can be an easy trap in which to fall. Many times it's also a matter of carelessness. Your mention of the "kitchen window" reminded me of a crutch I spotted in my own writing. While it was rare to see it appear on multiple occasions in the same manuscript, I found it popping up in several different stories. Now, when tempted to use that device, I make it a point to "go elsewhere".

    Similarly, I like to start much of my writing with a single-word description of the weather; i.e., "Rain.", "Snow.", or "Heat." While it's not an "always" thing for me, it's used quite frequently. I'll have to examine that practice, as well.

    Thank you for an informative and thought provoking piece.


  8. Hi William,

    I'm very pleased you found this post so helpful. When I was typing it I worried that writers wouldn't identify with it. But you have identified with it and that makes so pleased. I'm so glad it has helped you :)