Common Errors in Fiction Manuscripts, Part 6

Less is More

Sex/love scenes

We either see sex scenes that belong in an issue of Hustler, explicit in detail and street language, or love scenes reminiscent of saccharine romances. It’s rare to find a debut manuscript that handles erotica of any kind with a deft hand and subtle impact. Here, at Five Rivers, we usually opt for the mantra: less is more, and that applies as much or more to scenes of sexuality. Every action requires justification: does this advance the plot? Does this develop character? Does this sustain tension?

Kitsch techie phrases and neologisms in SF

One of my dislikes in SF is the perceived requirement to invent catchy phrases to describe new technologies, countries, and environments. Doing so is fine to a point, but when neologisms become a flood, all the author has succeeded in doing is alienating the reader. It’s not clever. It’s not cutting edge. It’s just bad writing.

For example, our hero John is running through a space station and holds up his wrist to shout into his percom. I stop and reread that word. Percom. All action halts because I have to process that word, extrapolate meaning. Per/com. Per = personal? Com = communicator? Personal communicator? I then scan a few other phrases around the neologism to see if that translation fits in context. Yes. But what’s wrong with that is my attention’s arrested. The tension you as the author created has broken. Lost opportunity = ineffectual writing.

If you’re creating a new concept or technology, work from the known to the unknown. We already have cell phones, blue tooth headsets. Do a little research (ah yes, that research thing again) and see where the innovative developers are going with personal communication devices, and then allow your imagination free rein within the parameters of logical science and effect a likely evolution both of technology and name.

I recently read one example of a neologism gone awry in Peter Watts’ Maelstrom. Now, agreed, I’m venturing into hallowed territory here, let alone the area where angels occupy the heads of pins. Having said that, Watts creates a spy drone called a botfly.

Now, in the real world, my knowledge of a botfly is a parasitic fly whose larvae burrow under the skin to complete their pupating. So, when I read about Watts’ botfly, it took a moment for me to dismiss the parasitic creature, and extrapolate meaning through the syllables of the neologism. i.e. bot and fly. Bot = robot or drone. Fly = literal action, i.e. the drone can fly.

So, one has to ask, why not simply use the term drone? It is an already established piece of military hardware, often used for surveillance. And by doing so you quickly establish meaning and maintain the rapid-fire tension of the plot.

Comments? Questions? We’d love to hear from you.

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