|Spiral by Paul McEuen|
This is what Staskiewicz says concerning McEuen's novel:
❝There is a certain tendency among authors, particularly of thrillers, to exhibit something I call Look What I Know syndrome. Symptoms include unnecessary technical specificity (a rifle is never simply a rifle, it's an M4A1 carbine with adjustable scope), acronym overload, and awkwardly shoehorned dialogue on topics like Masonic history and airplane manufacture that reads like Wikipedia articles in quotation marks.❞When I read this, quite frankly, I laughed. How completely true is Staskiewicz's assessment of what some authors choose to use when it comes to drawing a picture for the reader. Although I have yet to read McEuen's thriller, this, my friends, sounds like a classic case of telling and not showing. How many of us out there suffer from this syndrome?
Let's start by taking a look at some of the more obviously placed clues in the above quote. Dan Brown, it seems, has become the whipping boy for bad writing. You will find wonderfully written (sarcasm intended) and oddly in-depth descriptions, with rather clumsy phrasing, in Dan Brown's novels The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol. According to The Telegraph, Edinburgh professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum says, "Brown's writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad." This article, entitled "The Lost Symbol and The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown's 20 Worst Sentences," is quite humorous with wonderfully bad quotes from numerous Brown novels. If you need a laugh, check it out. I wanted to point out a couple of quotes column author Tom Chivers uses; ones that clearly show Brown firmly entrenched in the "Look What I Know" syndrome.
|The Da Vinci Code|
by Dan Brown
The Lost Symbol, Chapter 1: He was sitting all alone in the enormous cabin of a Falcon 2000EX corporate jet as it bounced its way through turbulence. In the background, the dual Pratt & Whitney engines hummed evenly.
The Da Vinci Code, Chapter 17: Yanking his Manurhin MR-93 revolver from his shoulder holster, the captain dashed out of the office.Just a little too much information is going through the character's head. What do you think?
Brown is also found guilty of the overuse of acronyms in his novel Deception Point, which, surprise, surprise, is about a four-letter agency called NASA. But enough picking on poor Dan Brown. There are other writers out there who suffer from the "Look What I Know" syndrome. Perhaps you're one of them?
But how do we avoid this pitfall? As writers, we want to show our knowledge and that, yes, we did the research and we know what we're talking about. Let's see how you can fix these problems in your current WIP:
- Look at your current manuscript and take a scene containing dialogue. In that scene, are you trying to explain something to the reader that the characters already know? If so, then you're suffering from the "Look What I Know" syndrome. In order to correct informative dialogue, move it into the thoughts of your viewpoint character.
- Information Dumps -- I think each and every writer suffers from information dumps. I've read many books where it seems the author felt the need to dump large blocks of info into the text at inconvenient, pace-slowing places. Don't stop the action of a scene to describe every little bit of what's going on in the scene. Keep that action moving and bring out parts of necessary information as the scene is moving forward. In all, keep a steady pace with the action.
- If you're considering using an explanation of something technical or historical that pertains to the scene at hand, then make sure this information is understandable through your character's POV. Don't have a construction worker notice every element going into a medical scene. If that character doesn't know the first thing about medicine, then let the reader see that. Bring it down (or up) to that character's educational level.
- Make sure your character has time to notice what he/she is doing, or else your description will sound ridiculous. Let's take the The Da Vinci Code example above -- Is this character actually going to notice he's holding a Manurhin MR-93? No! The scene is moving to quickly for him to even care about what he's holding in his hand. Sometimes simply deleting the details makes a story more believable.
Do you tend to suffer from the "Look What I know" syndrome? What symptoms do you display that lead you to believe you over explain too much in your writing? Who's an author who really grates on your nerves because he/she does way too much overwriting?
*This review can be found in the April 1, 2011 publication, edition #1148.
*Stop by The Random Book Review and check out the thriller I reviewed this week!