You know, the funny thing about falling into holes while writing novels or short stories is that, well, everybody succumbs. From first-timers to seasoned authors, the errors I see as a fiction editor fall into the same categories. So much is to be learned in order to write for publication. This creative endeavor isn’t for the faint of heart!
And what are the most-common writing mistakes I see? As you can imagine, these are legion. But some I see over and over again.
So, let’s look at 5 of them.
Here we go again, right? As my authors know, and those who read this blog as well, I simply harp on viewpoint.
Why? Because it truly is the hub around which the entire wheel of the story and people revolve. Put another way, it’s simply the whole ball of wax. If you don’t master this, your story and characters will sprawl all over the place, and you’ll spend most of your time telling, rather than showing, creating, evoking.
In short, you’ve just told an on-the-surface, not very engaging tale. And your readers have just vacated your planet.
So much goes into this topic. First-person, second-person (yes, it does exist, though rarely), third-person narration all have different parameters. Much crossover does of course exist, but which point of view you’ve chosen also has specs unique to it.
As a book editor, I write about this topic so much because the broad repercussions of viewpoint just can’t be dismissed. It truly is difficult to master. But doing so will revolutionize your writing.
Now, how can that be, you might ask? All books have characters, right?
Well, all books and short stories have names on a page.
But are those characters?
When the writer just tells the reader all about the character (often in the form of one big info-dump), these become one-dimensional names.
It’s funny, as a book editor, I see this all the time. Those names on the page never become real people, because they have no depth to them. The writer is just telling us about them, and often, without making my own notes, I can’t remember who’s who. Keeping track of those names just proves difficult.
You know, we come to know folks in books just as we do in real life—a piece at a time. One trait we learn about them causes a behavior to make sense. Authors build upon this, as the plot changes the character, and the character drives the plot.
By about mid-book, however, readers need to truly know the protagonist. Know his hopes and dreams, his fears and foibles. Know his Achilles’ Heel, which if not mastered, will spell failure in his quest.
The other main characters have come to life by then as well.
And yes, it takes some doing to fashion fabulous characters J
Plotting and Plot Points
What is a plot?
Well, that’s easy, we all say. It’s what happens in the book.
Yeah, that’s true. But the missteps in plotting, specifically those dealing with plot points, are some of the most common writing mistakes I see as a fiction editor.
It’s not just that we need a discernible beginning, middle, and end. But also that each of those has its own ‘space’ in a story. And not getting that right results in a manuscript with no shape. In effect, we have one big blob.
Often, in the first entire section, nothing happens. We have, again, huge info dumps about characters. We have the main character’s ‘real’ life, which goes on and on and on and . . . Instead of getting our story going.
And then, we have this entire blob of a middle section where again, nothing much happens. What I joke as being those dreaded sagging middles.
So many things need to happen here. This is not only the meat of the book, but where the story has to really move. Or, your reader has again vacated your planet.
And then often, the book rushes to conclusion.
See how the shape gets distorted into that big blob?
And that’s where the timing of plot points is crucial:
Big plot point to kick our protagonist from Act I into Act II. Another big plot point just past mid-way, which kicks him to face that Achilles’ Heel. Another to transition from Act II into Act III. And the final big one with the climax.
But here’s the other important thing: Through each of the acts, the story needs minor plot points as we go, which keep the action going, keep the story moving. If these are missing, we’ve lost the entire narrative.
Ouch. Just the sound of that hurts, no?
I’ll make a confession here. Very early in my writing career, I had a literary agent send a rejection, which mentioned my ‘infelicitous prose.’ Well, then. Yes, that stung. I had come from a journalistic background, and thought my prose sparing though full. Apparently not!
But you know, I took that criticism as a challenge. And dove back in with more resolve than ever.
Because writing well takes time. You hone your voice by trial and error, taking risks, falling down, keeping at it.
Nobody writes all that well at first. I see such wordiness, which buries the meaning and intent. One of the joys of what I do, however, is finding those gems of the writer’s true voice, trying to surface from under the verbiage. And once we hone in on that, the path ahead becomes oh-so-much clearer.
Yes, a lot of guidance exists about this. And it helps enormously to have a great book editor point out where your own prose is failing. Then, the remedy is to write, write, write, write.
Writers want to be published. Today.
You yourself can probably taste it—no matter where you are in the process. Maybe you’re just starting and maybe that first draft is down. Maybe you’ve worked with an editor and are eyebrows deep in revision.
In essence, that siren call still sings to you, no matter where you are.
But this isn’t an endeavor of instant gratification.
In this new world of publishing, where anyone can toss words onto a page and instantly “publish” it via the online services, it’s difficult indeed to wait until you learn your craft. Until your book is truly ready.
It’s difficult for all writers, but especially for new ones.
I can’t tell you how many writers come to me who self-published novels, only to be horrified down the road that they’d done so. Because once you begin learning the craft—truly learning the craft—your own mistakes become glaringly evident. And we want that dawning to come before your book is out there for all to see!
Working with my clients, I often have to slow them down through revisions. I always cringe a bit when one contacts me to say he’s ‘rewritten’ the book, in a matter of months.
Revision takes times. And rewriting takes a lot of time.
So, slow down. Write, write, write. But don’t rush through any of this—it truly is the kiss of death if you want a career as a fiction writer.
Okay, so these are broad brush, but they’re the big 5 most-common writing mistakes I see. And you can delve more deeply into all of them via the links included here.
Because you don’t want to be one of those writers—the ones who put out mediocre books. Since you’re reading this, you’re committed to quality. You’re committed to your readers staying on your planet.
Now, go get ‘em!