Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Top Ten Mistakes New Fiction Writers Make

"Jeez, did I do that?"
Not too long ago, I read an article by Sally Zigmond at Writer's World, The Top Ten Mistakes New Fiction Writers Make. While her article is for short story writers, it fits for authors with manuscripts of any length. Some of her comments made me smile remembering how naive I was when I first wrote Knight of Runes. Other items, well, I find some are still a challenge for me. The good news for me is, at least I know what they are and can how to fix them. Here is a short review of Ms. Zigmond's article.


  1. Lack of Editing: The draft is finished. Now what? Is it ready to pitch? No, it's just a rough draft. Now the real work begins. Review your work and make certain the story and character development hold together. Vet out the passive voice, review word choices, ensure the POV is consistent, and layer in emotion. You have to polish and make your story shine.
  2. Dull Writing: People want to read about characters who face challenges and change/grow. It's what holds the readers attention. According to Ms Zigmond, many new authors write dull flat characters and seem to be afraid to let their imagination go. They write stereotypical characters and situations. Fiction must be interesting and entertaining.
  3. Too Much Irrelevant Detail: This runs the gamut from too much background information (and every piece of research information the writer found) to details about insignificant characters. These don't move the story forward, If anything, unnecessary details slow the pace and muddy the story. Writers must learn how 'sprinkle' in the history/research and backstory and avoid information dumps.
  4. No Attention to Language: Clear writing and careful wording is the sign of a good writer. Many new writers rely on "telling" the story instead of "showing" us how it unfolds. And language isn't just about dialogue. It's about infusing emotions and layering in actions into the story to make it pop. It's all about word choice and usage.
  5. Absence of Imagery and Reliance on Cliches: Many stories lack lively images. The challenge is to make the reader see what you see, without relying on cliches. Paint your picture with words so reader can be there, in the moment, with your characters.  
  6. No Sense of Place: Showing the reader the environment helps to set the mood and goes a long way in explaining the characters reactions. The sights, sounds, smell, even the taste of a place, anchors the story and sets the mood for the reader. 
  7. No Shape or Structure: Where you start the story, whose point of view it's written in, how fast or slow the pacing, where and how the tension is built, and how information in provided all must be planned to keep the structure tight and the story moving forward. I agree with Ms. Zigmond. Writing is a craft as much as an art.
  8. Poor Dialogue Skills: The dialogue must sound real and be appropriate for the character, the time, and the place. If the dialogue sounds believable, the readers will be hooked.
  9. Lack of Technical Knowledge: Nothing screams novice more than poor grammar. If you're a writer, learn the basics of your craft.   
  10. Top Tip: When your story is completed, distance yourself from it for a few days. When you take it up again, read it out loud. It's the best way to hear whats not working.
What mistakes have you made or have seen others make? How would you handle them?