Nothing made my mother’s nose crinkle more than the smell of a sour washcloth. Her sense of smell was so strong that she claimed she could detect the scent of a sour wash cloth on a man’s face in an elevator. I’m a nose crinkler too, though I confess I’m not quite that discriminating.
Still, she trained me well and I so do my very best to remedy any and all sour wash cloth situations in our family.
The steps are simple and straightforward. First, to prevent a sour situation from the get-go, be sure to thoroughly wring out each wash cloth immediately after using. Second, never put a damp wash cloth in the hamper. Instead, hang it to air day in a spot with plenty of ventilation. Third, if you do discover a sour wash cloth, hope is not lost. You can do one of two things: boil it, or get it wet, wring it out, and immediately zap it on high in the microwave for two minutes. (This works for sour sponges, as well.)
I’m thankful my mother left me so equipped with strategies for handling these nose-crinkling moments. I must also admit, however, that the very idea of sniffing out those sour smells, has gotten me thinking about writing. After all nothing, and I mean nothing, pulls the reader out of the story more than a sour story moment. Here, then, are four sour story moments that I am working diligently to wring out of my pieces before stepping into any elevators. Get your noses ready!
Off Kilter Rhythm and Rhyme: Nothing crinkles this reader’s nose faster than poorly executed rhyming text. The hard truth is that telling a story well in rhyme is hard. Not only must the rhyming be perfect, so must the meter. To shine, the rhymes must be unexpected and not forced and the sentence structure should never be inverted to make the rhyme work. Also, to be effective, the content of the poem or story must always come first.
Story Stoppers: This is a sour source I’ve been working hard to eliminate a lot lately. So, what’s a story stopper? A story stopper is anything that takes the reader out of the moment, that removes them from the world you have created in your story. It could be inconsistency of voice, or a plot moment so unbelievable that it makes the reader stop mid sentence. Perhaps it’s simply a word or phrase that feels out of character for a particular story’s world. It could also be a grammatical gaffe or an erroneous assumption or fact that makes the reader question the whole world you’ve created.
Too Much Description: In early elementary school my kids were taught to make their sentences pop by adding vivid adjectives and adverbs. This strategy works well for that age group. However, as adults, with full-grown vocabularies, our sentence popping strategy needs to shift from descriptive to active. Instead of “ big heavy rock” try “boulder” or “chunk”. Instead of “walk slowly” how about “amble” or “traipse” or “poke”. With well-chosen nouns and verbs, pieces for youngest readers will pop without being overly wordy.
Heavy-handed Message: In my opinion, a heavy-handed message zaps a story of all fun and naturalness. (I’m embarrassed, in fact, in hindsight, at how heavy-handed the earliest stories I submitted to magazines were.) All good stories, of course, by their very nature, have some sort of take-away but, when done well, the message is subtle and the story comes first.
Now it’s your turn. What sour wash cloth story moments would you add to this nose-crinkling list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Happy Writing Monday, all!