How many mistakes will a writer make on the road to rejection? The answer is ‘too many’ – yet some need not be made at all. Read on for ten of the worst. These are some of the mistakes that will mark you as an amateur; a wannabe writer in a pro world.
Read, learn and avoid.
- Up first is the “show, don’t tell” maxim.
This maxim is often ignored. Yet writing that shows what’s going on is so powerful. If there’s one thing to learn early in the writer’s life, this is it. When you say “the dog was beautiful and bouncy” you’ve told us. Whereas “sunlight gleamed from every part of the dog’s coat as it frolicked after his owner” is showing us. Short and dark; tall and slim; fat, skinny; old, young. When we have to colour in the picture for ourselves, you haven’t shown us.
- Some of those suffixes you may be tempted to bring out would serve you better if you keep them hidden.
There’s nothing wrong with making a new word or phrase for a different sort of something, Lewis Carroll did this with slithy toves; invention has a place. But too often words are made up by adding bits. Ugly backend bits. Adding ‘ness’ isn’t conciseness; too much of it isn’t cleverness, just outrageousness. And with some exceptions, the suffixes “ise”, and “ingly” add length but little else.
- Dialogue is only effective if it sounds real.
Actors saying: “As you know, Rhys, we want…” will help you bring in plot pieces you need to introduce. But there are more subtle ways to do it. With dialogue, you have the opportunity to show the vibrant differences between your characters, such as their class, education and life experiences; the whole of who your characters are. Don’t use it for other things. Another trap with dialogue is to be too trendy. This dates your book. Street jargon works in context, but overly edgy is overkill. Give your work a chance to get dog-eared before becoming irrelevant.
- Repetition bores readers.
That means over-long lists of things will read like lists. You may have been attempting a cacophony of experiences jumbled together as a bold splash of colour. But the preacher’s walk to his new church through its garden of red and white roses, pansies, impatiens, lilies, snapdragons and carnations will seem like a wander through a gardener’s catalogue if you don’t make more out of it. If the preacher likes flowers and spots the odd one out, that’s different, as it illuminates his character.
- Authors are human; they use patterns because they like them.
But those patterns can be traps, because a fresh reader will see the pattern and get distracted. So you can’t use the same sentence construction over and over – ‘he said so because; the doctor examined her because; his dog flopped down because…’ because your reader will be jerked from the story. And avoid overusing pet words, too. Words are a writer ‘s best friends. But invite them into the story too often, especially rare ones, and their welcome will wear out. A word like resound resounds somewhat, if used too often. Does it justify repeating? Don’t repeat yourself without a sound reason.
- To be is not to be, unless it’s really required.
“Richard was there.” If you have to tell us Richard was there, give Richard something to do. Then readers will know he is there. If you write about a body that is in the house, be wary of also saying the gun lying beside it is unfired, the window is open, and the meat is missing. All devices have a place. But be deliberate, not unthinking.
- Tangling words confuse your reader.
If readers have to stop and work out a phrase that got so turned about it isn’t clear any more, then it’s too twisted. Simple language often sounds so ‘easy’ writers can lose the sense of making sense. Writing ‘the fairground opened in a breathtaking breeze’ makes much merriment with alliteration yet loses the reader completely because she doesn’t know what you meant.
- Commas are more necessary than not.
A competent writer has comma use down pat.You can break the rules but learn them first. Know the WHY of commas before you confuse, annoy or lose your reader.Being too clever or too careless demand their price; the price is often a reader who may not keep on reading.Editors are pedants. You wouldn’t risk rejection by leaving out commas would you? That would suicide.
- Writing that is flat is like a landscape without undulation; it is uninteresting.
Sometimes dull bits of writing sneak in, unnoticed. If a man leaves his porch to walk down the road to get his paper, describe why, and what happens as he walks; not just that he got a paper. Describe the man, his dress, his hair, his teeth. What about the paper? What is there on page one to catch his attention even briefly as he walks back? And what about the road? Does it lead to the pub, or something interesting? Is an unread paper lying in a puddle? Who could have dropped it? Maintain interest in your story and readers will follow you anywhere.
- Adverbs and adjectives, like salt, taste better when not overused.
In ‘The Elements of Style’ we’re told: Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak noun out of a tight place… It is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and colour.
Reproduced for Educational Purposes.