This is part two of the last blog posted! Here are the next 8 mistakes I’ve seen writers make, or have made myself, over the last few years of writing and editing.
8. Weak Introduction
First impressions are everything. Especially in writing. Readers will decide if they’ll keep reading within the first paragraph. (More avid and gracious readers may give you a couple pages). And once you get to publishing, this is even more important because agents get HUNDREDS of queries and if you can’t hook them in the first sentence, your book is in their trash.
Often, writers will start with a long description of the setting, or a mundane event like waking up from a dream or talking to themselves in a mirror (for the love of Harry Potter, don’t do this. This is the LAST way you should explain what your character looks like).
Not only are these clichés, but we don’t learn anything about the story or character. and readers will only keep reading when they care about the story, characters, and motivations. Establish early on who they are, what they want, and why this story matters. Give us stakes and make them high.
That’s why the introduction, the first paragraph – no, the first sentence – is important to hook your readers right away.
Winner – Verity by Colleen Hoover
No one wants to be preached at when they pick up a book – especially a fiction book. (Of course, there are exceptions but not enough for you to ignore this point.) This happens when you overdo your theme. If you want your reader to take away from your book that forgiveness is important, make it clear how forgiveness sets your character free. But DON’T have your character give a long speech about the importance of forgiveness.
This mistake is made in both fiction and nonfiction because both have themes and symbolism and subjects the writer wants readers to take away from the book. But try to steer clear of preaching in both.
The story should speak for itself. You don’t have to beat the reader over the head with themes and symbolism.
MVP – Colleen Hoover
10. Info Dump
This is when you give the reader way too much unnecessary information in one sitting. It’s unrealistic, clunky, and distracting. Readers can choke on info dumps and may stop reading, especially if they happen early on.
There are multiple types of info dumps including, worldbuilding, backstory, technical, and emotional.
The most popular is the backstory dumps. Readers don’t need to know everything about your character in the first few pages. Backstory rarely belongs in your story’s beginning because readers won’t care about your character’s backstory until you’ve given them a reason to. Imagine opening a book and reading:
Alex was born in a small town in Mississippi. She was the youngest of five kids and therefore always felt overlooked and lost in the chaos. She hated school and wanted to move to New York as soon as she graduated to pursue her dream of becoming a movie director. But when she was 17, she became pregnant with her high school boyfriend’s baby. She finished school and got a job at a diner where she spent the next four years of her life in a monotonous cycle.
I already don’t care and am putting that book back on the shelf. Whether you’re writing a thriller, romance, young adult, or any other genre, some detective work on the part of the reader is what keeps them curious. They want to discover things as they read. They want the writer to trust them to be curious and keep reading.
MVP – Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
11. Sticking to the Surface
Too often writers will stick with the first description they come up with and move on. This may be okay with your first draft but after that, you need to start digging for the richer adjectives, verbs, and descriptions. Dig deep and come up with something fresh. Something the readers will feel and not skim right past.
A few ways to do this is to get rid of every single cliche in your book and come up with a unique way of saying it, delete adverbs, change passive voice to action, figure out your “go-to’s” (like having your characters raise their eyebrows) and change it, and reworking dialogue tags. Instead of
“No!” Mike spat.
“No!” Mike said. I wiped his spittle droplets from my face.
MVP – Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
12. POV Intrusion
Once you figure out what POV you’re going to use, you HAVE to stick to it and you have to obey the laws of that POV. Rarely will you talk to the readers directly so you probably will never have a narratory intrusion in your story. (Especially in fiction. Nonfiction is much different.)
(Let me be clear, I’m not talking about the intentional narrator intrusion that’s part of the voice of the story. For example, in A Series of Unfortunate Events, the narrator is a fictitious journalist who addresses the reader often.)
Your opinion as the author doesn’t matter. This is the same as becoming a preacher. If you’re spelling out the moral of the story and forcing themes down the reader’s throat, they’ll recognize it as narrator intrusion and they will not be happy with you.
But maybe an even bigger POV intrusion I see most often is when a story is written in first person or limited third person. This is usually the case and if so, then you should never tell something your protagonist can’t know for sure. If you’re writing in limited third person and Alex is your main character (the one readers are in the head of) then she can’t say “Mike thought about his father.” How is Alex supposed to know what Mike is thinking? We aren’t in Mike’s head. Instead, “Alex noticed the furrow in Mike’s brow and remembered his dad left when he was just five. Maybe that’s why he overreacted.” Or, better yet, use dialogue for Mike to convey this to Alex.
MVP – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
13. Tense Inconsistency
This is another mistake I am prone to make. Once you pick a tense for your story (past, present, future) then you have to stick to it. It can be very easy to accidentally write a verb in past tense when you’ve been writing in present. Occasionally the tense may change (flashbacks, explaining something that happened right before the scene, etc.) but if you’re a novice, it’s best to stick to the tense of your choice for the entirety of your story.
This is something most fixed in editing. Keep an eye out, especially if you know this is a mistake you’re susceptible to.
MVP – Karin Slaughter
14. Giving Up
This is the most heartbreaking mistake writers make.
They give up. They read five articles about mistakes writers make and decide it’s too hard. Too many people tell them how difficult it is to traditionally publish and they decide it’s not worth it. They get halfway through a novel, get stuck, and stop.
Don’t give up. Finish the novel no matter what. You can fix it later, so just get that first draft out.
It can help to figure out if you’re a pantser or planner or plantser? Pantsers are writers who fly by the seat of their pants. They don’t plan or outline, they just start writing. Many writers start out this way and then give up. It’s likely you need to become a planner or a plantser to stick to it.
Planners are exactly what it sounds like – they have an outline from the beginning. They plan out their novel before they ever start writing.
I’m a plantser. A mix of both. I start out as a pantser, just writing freely with no idea where I’m going. But eventually, usually three or so chapters in, I have a better idea of the novel and I start planning and draft a loose outline. The further into the book I get, the more definitely my plan is. By the time I’m 85% done, I usually know exactly what’s going to happen for the rest of the book. This works from me because it gets me over the hump and I know how to finish.
Figure out how you work best and play to your strengths so you can finally write “The End.”
MVP – Dr. Seuss
15. Post-First Draft Nap
You finish that first draft throw yourself a party but then what? Are you done? Do you take a year-long nap and leave that book sitting untouched and idle on your computer?
No. You have that quick party, take a SHORT nap, and then get back to it.
You have to edit and edit and edit again. When you think you’re done editing, give it one more round. Edit yourself, get beta readers, and maybe pay an editor.
Then you have to research publishing. What does the market of your genre look like? Are you self publishing or going the traditional route? You have to research agents and publishers. Write out a synopsis and query letter. Then edit those a hundred times. Prepare for a long winter of editing and querying. It takes years to publish a book, but don’t give up. You have to have patience.
They say to publish a book, you have to have 2 of the following three: talent, persistence, and luck. Odds are, you won’t have luck. So, capitalize on the other two and stay persistent.
That’s not it, though.
Start another book. Create a brand for yourself. You may be querying this first story for three years. In that time you could write three more books and each could be better than the last one. Ted Dekker wrote and rewrote four books before getting one published. Agents want to know you’re serious about this writing thing. They don’t want one-hit wonders. They want authors who write. And so do readers.