Now, this title makes it seem like I am an expert author who has mastered the art of writing and has descended from the high realms to give some advice to the puny starters. Wrong. I am a fairly new writer who is actually going to recount some of the common mistakes I made when I started writing. Obviously, I didn’t notice them immediately. I only realised some of them during in my second or third reading but a majority of them were noticed by friends or family, who were my beta readers. Some of the mistakes are those I have noticed while reading works of other new authors. If you are a newbie writer, this article may help you identify the same mistakes or patterns in your work, and if you are an experienced writer, you may be able to recall the same in your early works. Also, you never know, you may be making some of them again.
This usually happens in the beginning of your novel. In the first chapter, when you are introducing your characters, you tend to put in so much of back story that the whole chapter ends up being the biography of your character. You go on and on, talking about his or her childhood, an event that happened to shape their lives, and about their loved ones, all in one go. The same happens when your book contains a world or universe you created. When writing a fantasy book for the first time, you may find yourself describing the new world, how it was founded, its history, how it works everyday and so on all in the start. The best way to present all this information is by peppering it in throughout the book. You could create a lot of interesting scenes and dialogues with such information.
Another version of information overloading comes in the form of description about mundane stuff. If it doesn’t add to the character or plot in any way or becomes of relevance later then cut it out. For example, you go on to describe the morning routine of your character step by step without leaving a single detail out, often when it does not affect, or have any relevance to what is going to happen in your story. It just increases the number of words that a reader does not need to read.
Conflict and Obstacles
Conflict and obstacles are what drive a story forward. If there is no conflict in your story, then that is just recounting routines of characters. A story needs disturbances that put off characters from their routines. Of course, you can choose the obstacles. They doesn’t have to be apocalypse level problems or issues, but they need to have the ability to disrupt the daily life of your protagonist. You need to create situations in which your characters can react and only then, can you move forward and build an interesting story.
The Perfect Protagonist
If your protagonist is flawless, then please, for everyone’s sake, stop and think. For one, how can someone perfect exist? And second, a perfect, flawless character will never give rise to a situation of conflict. This is assuming that the ‘perfectness’ of your character in itself is not the flaw (and it’s a pretty good flaw). We have already seen how conflict is important in driving the narrative forward and so, a protagonist that never faces any obstacle is not good for the story. Sometimes, this happens because writers love their characters so much that they don’t want bad things to happen to them. However, this also takes away the chance for any character development. You have to let your characters grow.
Another reason writers tend to write perfect characters is because they are afraid—afraid to create flawed characters because they believe the audience will not like their characters. Again, this just makes them so unreal and unrelatable. At times, its okay to not like a character (that is what makes them so real). It’s the same in life—even when we love someone, we don’t like everything about them. It’s all part of who they are. So, don’t be afraid to show some real traits in your characters. If they are supposed to be an unlikeable charcter but you want your audience’s support for the character then start the book by putting them in a situation where they are the underdog, where they are the victim. It doesn’t have to be something grand, it could be something small that tugs at the reader’s heart like them being shamed for something or being called names because they are different, maybe show a mall snippet from their childhood where their family atmosphere was uncomfortable.
The Thesaurus Syndrome
As a literature student, I’ve read my fair share of texts with words that don’t break when bitten (that’s a literal translation of a common saying from my mother tongue). So, when I read for leisure, I’m looking for simple conversational language that doesn’t require me to reach for a dictionary every two lines. It is also something that I pay attention to when I write. I try to make my language as simple as possible and limit my vocabulary to what I believe everyone will understand without difficulty. I have, however, noticed some writers using synonyms of the most common words in their writing. This just makes things hard for your readers, and interrupts their reading flow. Replacing common words with fancy ones will not make your book any better. In fact, there is a high chance of it backfiring. Imagine you use a fancy word that actually does not fit the context, then it just looks out of place and may even alter your original meaning.
I am not saying that you should dumb down your language but rather limit the number of fancy words that use, so that the reader won’t be long pressing and looking up the word meaning every two sentence. Using big words all the time doesn’t show how smart you it just shows that you don’t know how to pace your story well.
As a reader, this is one of the most irritating things I have encountered in a book. When you write your story, make sure you decide beforehand what tense you want your whole story to be relayed in. You choose that tense and you stick to it. The problem with not doing this is that it will completely ruin the reader’s flow. Inconsistent tenses are like tiny potholes on a highway—they will cause very bumpy rides for your readers.
The good thing about most of the mistakes we make as newbie writers is that they are reversible. Most of them are usually corrected when we do our proof reading or once our beta readers provide feedback. One important quality to have as a writer is to be open to feedback and corrections.
I hope this article helps you. If you have anything you think could be added to the above list, make sure to comment and let us know.
About the Author
Christy is a student, part-time writer, and a full-time Wannabe. She devours books and binges shows.