Ever been to Costco? Have you gone when you’re hungry and feeling just the slightest bit needy? Big mistake.
That’s when the kilo-sized bag of potato chips land in your cart, right next to a couple new tops, a blender, the double six-pack of muffins and above the 90-piece food storage containers with snap-on lids. If your husband’s along for the ride – and he is, because he loves Costco and the free samples – that only means there are four hands stacking items in the cart instead of two. Exit Costco; subtraction bank account.
Now, getting a little bit out of control at a warehouse store might not break the bank. But indulging yourself too much as a writer can ruin a book. Writers can be overly clever, overly descriptive and overly cute. Readers may not think you’re cute; they may just get annoyed.
One writer of a very popular mystery series had me totally hooked. I loved his dashing main character and sharp wit. This helped me overlook the thin plots and tired story lines. But about a dozen books in, he committed a fatal error. The plots all but vanished and the cloying cleverness overtook the story. I haven’t read another one of his books.
I made this mistake in an early draft of book two of my Wild Crime series and my beta readers let me have it. Thank goodness they are honest, and I fixed the problems before sending the manuscript to my publisher. In the editing process, I revised even more.
I read recently that you need to be careful how many quirky characters you put in your novel; the advice was no more than one or two. My fictional town of Hay City, Idaho is a quirky place filled with people with murky motivations. This is part of what makes cozy mysteries fun to read. My main character’s best friend, Honey, understands a little too well the wish to kill a husband. (And perhaps, in her case, even other people’s husbands too.) But there’s a fine line between a book that’s fun to read and one that’s downright silly.
Beta readers and critique groups are two opportunities to weed out the silliness or other indulgences. Writing a police procedural? Be careful not to wear your reader out with way too many details on a cop’s job. Writing a romance? Watch out for too many “flowing locks” and “heaving breasts.” Limit the adverbs and run-on descriptive adjectives. Indulge yourself on the first draft, if you must. But then edit, edit, edit.
Splurge on that crazy-big sundae, take a Mediterranean cruise, wear something with too many sequins – but when it comes to your novel, behave like a cheapskate.