Monday, 9 July 2012

10 Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

1. Starting at the beginning
When I say the beginning, I mean at the beginning of the story, not at the birth of your main character. Do we really need to know all the background before we even know what the story is about? I don't think so. Start with the action - feed in the back story.

2. Writing about Mr and Mrs Dullage
Mr and Mrs Dullage have very little going for them. They have no personality, no dreams, no goals, no loves, hates, identifying features... nothing. They are amorphous blobs who just happen to have found themselves a speaking part in your story. And frankly, who cares what happens to them? Make your characters interesting, strong and like-able; people we care about.

3. Rambling speech
Even if you have found yourself the perfect protagonist, you risk throwing all your hard work away by letting him ramble. Don't let him hijack the conversation with all sorts of inconsequential rubbish and don't let him make long speeches. His speech should always be relevant, have a goal and be expressed clearly. The same applies to dialogue.

4. Pointless happenings
Filling your manuscript with pointless, irrelevant, extraneous detail is at best boring and at worst misleading. Or the other way around. Everything should happen for a reason. Use what you already know about your characters and background to enhance your story and give it the weight of authenticity.

5. Ignoring structure
Failing to think about the structure of a scene, chapter or even the whole novel, risks having a plot full of mole hills, pot holes and fog. You need to be clear about the goal of your story and how you are going to get there, building tension and drama exponentially as you go.

6. Under researching
You might not know what you think you know. If you get something wrong, you will lose credibility with your readers. It is always worth looking things up to be sure you get facts and information correct.

7. Showing off
Alternatively, knowing something really clever and in great detail is no reason to include it in a story. Nobody likes being lectured to. You can make your writing way more powerful and readable by putting complex ideas into simple language. 

8. Throwing a wobbly at the first hint of criticism
You wrote the goddam story, yes? You wanted it to be like that, yes? And just who do they think they are, telling you what would make it better? Well here's the thing - THEY are your reading public. If THEY have a suggestion to make it better, listening to them with your defences down mightn't be such a bad idea. Consider all criticism with an open heart and desire to improve. 

9. Thinking you have finished
You've worked hard, you've reached the end, you've dotted the Is and crossed the Ts... and now you want to send it off to an agent or publisher. But is it really ready? I mean, REALLY ready? The best stories take many many drafts, and many many revisions to get right. Writing is re-writing. 

10. Giving Up
So you've been rejected? Well join the club. The world's best and most successful writers have all been rejected at some point. If you give up today, you will never know how far away you were from making it - and remember, in this technologically advanced day and age, if you have exhausted all the traditional routes to publication, there is an alternative...

Mr & Mrs Dullage, BEFORE
Mr & Mrs Dullage, AFTER

*This post was inspired by The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M Bickham. Thanks Jack :)))


  1. Great list Wendy- I'm probably guilty of falling victim to all 10 at some point or another, especially no.7 when during my early days of writing, I tried too hard to sound like a writer by using big fancy words instead of developing my own authentic voice.

    1. Yes, I'm guilty of them all, except maybe number 10. I haven't given up yet although I have come very close at times.

  2. A great blogpost, Wendy. I'm definitely going through 8 and 9 at the moment but at least I know I'm being an overhasty prat. I guess that's a start. Let's never reach 10.

    1. LOL - yes, I plan to reach 8 and 9 again about mid-august. And 10? NEVER!

  3. Good advice as ever Wendy. I shall stick that list on my study wall.

    1. Thank you :))) ... in a meadow full of wild flowers?

  4. Wendy, yes yes yes, of course I know and practice all this, and indeed it comes naturally, now - but it never hurts to read it all again!!!! Good article, especially for anyone starting out. In partic, I like the bit about 'is it ready?' - I've started to read so many indie novels that, frankly, read like 1st or 2nd drafts. I think one of the best bits of advice is what you've put in a different way - don't be self-indulgent! Do you want to write a novel that people are going to want to read, or d'you want to get a load of stuff off your chest? :)

    1. Yes - there is a temptation to send something out quickly, but when writers are inexperienced they don't necessarily know when their work is ready. That just takes trial and error and time. Oh, and patience.


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