Killing your readers – or, How NOT to write!

We are at the letter K in our series on “Authors’ Tips – A to Z of Writing

If you’ve read the previous posts on the subject, you’ll recall that the eight of us – Devika Fernando, Preethi Venugopala, Paromita Goswami, Adite Banerjie, Ruchi Singh, Sudesna Ghosh, Saiswaroopa Iyer and I – are blogging on a myriad of writing-related topics with the topic corresponding to the Alphabet of the Week.

This week I’m going to talk about Killing …about how NOT to bore your readers.

Have you heard of the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest?
It has been around since 1982 and it connotes a very intriguing challenge – participants must write an “atrocious opening sentence to a hypothetical bad novel” and the most atrocious entry wins a prize every year.

The rules: Each entry has to be a single sentence – a single sentence of any length (but preferably not more than 60 words).

Here are some examples that I wrote once when I was in an ‘atrocious‘ mood:

Medical Thriller
  1. ‘It’s the appendix,’ I began, grimacing at the sudden putrid odor that rose from the opened abdominal cavity of the pale, decaying corpse laid out on the autopsy table, as seventeen pairs of curious eyes watched, mouths hanging open, nostrils tightly pinched against the smell, with some faces so green, they reminded me that only the very thick-skinned and the extremely stiff-spined should train for forensic medicine.
  2. The woman lay moribund, her breathing labored, her skin ashen, the blue nails indicative not of a passion for exotically named, though unpronounceable and unbelievable, tints of nail varnish, but of a pathological process that was slowly but surely converting her from a warm, living, loving mother and wife, to a cold, blue corpse.
  1. I marched up to the door of the palace, determined more than ever before to speak to my beloved at the very least, if not to kiss her rosebud lips with the passion they deserved, even as my blood boiled at the torture she was being subjected to at the hands of an autocratic father, who being King did not consider a Commoner, even one as uncommonly handsome as me, good enough for his only daughter, and even as my spine tingled at the menace I could sense seeping out in waves through the high, beautifully carved wooden door barring my entry; a door that, if I may remind you, dear Reader, had been painstakingly carved by my ancestors!
  2. The surgeon peered into the suppurating interior of the festering wound, swabbing and cleaning, her nose wrinkling in disgust at the putrid smell, as she wondered what it would be like to take a cruise down the Nile with the new fellow on the block, the handsome pathologist, whose smile reached all the way to eyes that crinkled at the corners and, every time his eyes met hers across a crowded room, they twinkled with a promised delight.
Family drama
  1. Peter stared moodily through the murky window of the rickety bus as it rattled along on a road that could hardly be called motor-able, his jaws tightly clenched over dentures that threatened to pop out every time the bus negotiated a particularly vicious pothole, and his elbows gainfully employed in making sure his kidneys stayed where the Good Lord intended them to, instead of jostling about all over the place!
  2. ‘If only you had not done that vicious thing – that awful thing which even one as selfish as you cannot deny would hurt the ones who love you unconditionally!’ moaned Maitali Aunty as she sank, disconsolate, into the obscenely over-stuffed sofa while clutching a lace handkerchief to trembling lips and looking longingly at the decanter of brandy placed just that far out of her reach so as to preclude a much-needed restorative swallow – then, reluctantly, she moved her gaze to look with loathing at the object of her tirade, her once-beloved nephew, me.

Warning: Do remember to take a breath in between long sentences. Writing verbose sentences is only good for you if you want to kill any chances of a reader continuing beyond the opening sentence of your book – or, if you want to win the next Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest.

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