What Not to Write

In trying to find that perfect idea, there are often things that stick out – that have been done before and catch a writer’s attention. I wonder sometimes if a lot of us, when starting out, haven’t put enough time and thought into making up our own worlds, so we jump off from someone else’s.

In writing books, they sometimes mention ‘red-flags’ that editors have just gotten sick of seeing. It isn’t to say those topics aren’t or haven’t been done well, only that they’ve been done so often (and so often badly) that you have to have a stellar manuscript to make it past the first page, or even the first paragraph. A good thing to remember is an editor only has so much time; they’ve been inundated with lame attempts at the same topics- sprinkled liberally, annoyingly with adverbs, containing cliches by the dozen, and descriptively painting details of a world for the first 21 pages. No wonder they have red-flag lists.

Here’s an example from the online science fiction magazine, Strange Horizons. My friends discussed it (writers discussing writing? oh my!) and it amused us. I like the organization of this list. I will admit to working on something similar to one of the items, but I’m hoping, of course, that it works! Always something to consider, especially when those rejections start pouring in…


10. Someone calls technical support; wacky hijinx ensue.

  1. Someone calls technical support for a magical item.
  2. Someone calls technical support for a piece of advanced technology.
  3. The title of the story is 1-800-SOMETHING-CUTE.

19. Some characters are in favor of immersive VR, while others are opposed to it because it’s not natural; they spend most of the story’s length rehashing common arguments on both sides. (Full disclosure: one of our editors once wrote a story like this. It hasn’t found a publisher yet, for some reason.)

28. Strange and mysterious things keep happening. And keep happening. And keep happening. For over half the story. Relentlessly. Without even a hint of explanation.

  1. The protagonist is surrounded by people who know the explanation but refuse to give it.

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