Sunday, March 4, 2012

Common Fiction Writing Mistakes

I found an article I thought would interest you. It was on the How To Write A Fiction Novel site. I admit some of the things made me cringe when I read them. Others I agreed with and moved on. All are a good reminder. Let me know which ones you can identify with or that you have overcome. If there are any missing from the list, by all means please share them with us.

Here is the entire article.

Are you guilty of any of these common fiction writing mistakes?
  • No Hook
  • No Hero
  • No Motive
  • No Clue
  • No Point
  • No Meaning
  • No Research
  • No Punch
Well, no more excuses. Here is a list of the most common fiction writing mistakes and how you can avoid them all.

Where's the Hook?
Ever read a book that makes you yawn by the end of page one? Yeah, me too. Usually, I'll try another page or two, but if the author hasn't gotten to the tension by then, I give up.
So, rule number one: make sure you have a hook. Start at a point of drama or tension. Drop us off the cliff into the conflict on page one, or we'll walk.

Who's In Charge Here?
Along the same lines... have you read any books that start with a meandering description of the room or the scenery, maybe with an unnamed character somewhere on the tapestry that's being woven, but otherwise "lifeless"?
Right. Mistake number two. Not introducing your hero or heroine right away. Within one or two pages max.
Or, if you want to live dangerously - and you can do it well - show us your antagonist right away, instead. Plotting something devious or committing a crime. Remember, dump us into the action.
Either way, get with the program and let us know who this story's about!

Why Did She Do That?
I'm sure you've seen the next of the common fiction writing mistakes, too. You're reading along, minding your own fantasy when out of the blue, your favorite character turns 180 degrees south when she should have been going north.
Why did she do that?
Don't be caught with your character's pants down. Make sure they have a motive for their actions. Or we're going to toss that book aside for the next episode of our favorite TV slop.

Who Said That?
"I like them hot," she said.
"I like them cold," she said.
"I like them tagged properly," I said.
Confused? So will your readers be, if you don't write dialogue that's either tagged with the speakers identity somehow, or, if you're a real pro, sounds like only one character in your book.
Tags will make your dialogue clear when you have too many speakers to keep track of otherwise. The more fun way (in my eyes) to keep dialogue making sense is to be sure at least your main characters all speak their own way.
Not different languages (I don't like too much translating), but just different turns of phrase and common figures of speech they're - like - guilty of using frequently. Do this well, and your readers will love you for it.

What's Your Point?
Another mistake writers make is to use description when they don't really know what they want to say next. Going on, and on, and on, and... Yeah, it might be exquisite prose, but if it doesn't move the plot along or illuminate a character's character, out it goes.
Make your point without confusing us with lack of detail, too. Tied into the above discussion about dialogue, if you don't leave enough detail for us to know who did what, we're going to flee in confusion. End of story.

You Again?
Another bee in my bonnet comes from "I'm-gonna-get-rich-quick" writers, who use cliches throughout their novels and stereotypes for all their characters. You know who I'm talking about.
The dumb blond - with stars in her eyes - who kisses the hunk-of-the-day - and feels fireworks explode as she melts in his arms.
Ooohh! I'm gonna gag.
If you can't think of a better way to put things than cliches, dig deeper. It's there, and you can find it by playing with words. (No, your mom won't yell at your for playing with your words. Only for playing with your food.)
And if your characters are all stereotypes from overused story ideas, you better be writing some very sharp fiction humor books. Otherwise, it's notfunny. Nor entertaining.

Am I Dumb (Or Are You)?
Other common fiction writing mistakes related to language usage come under the category of talking wrong to your readers. Especially in genre fiction, the avid readers are going to know what you mean if you talk about commonly known facts.
For example, what science fiction reader doesn't know that FTL means "faster than light"? If you say "faster than light", you're going to tick them off. (Or make them think you're a dumb blond.) There goes that book again. Straight to the dung heap. So to speak.
So go for great description, but don't define things your readers already understand.

But What About...?
It's the home stretch. You're almost past all the common fiction writing mistakes without a hitch. Just dodge these bullets and you'll be home free. Or your hero will be, anyway.
Remember that hook we talked about? Make it snap. Make it fast, make it pick us up by our lapels and give us a good shake. Whatever you do, don't drag it out into oblivion.
Same goes with your middle (no, I don't care if you've got a beer belly). No sagging allowed. Or is that no sagging aloud? If your middle doesn't keep us zipping right along, you need to trim it until it does.
Wow, you've made it to the end, your heroine's poised on the brink and... "they all lived happily ever after..."
Boo, hiss! That's no way to end your story! Don't be lazy here. We'll catch you if you are.
And while we're at it, if Aunt Agnes had a subplot going, you better tie her loose ends up, too. Or we'll never trust you again.


  1. An excellent post.
    We all need a kick in the pants on occasion and can improve.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Hi Ruth,
    thanks for a great post, just in time before I start my next novel. Even pros need constant reminders, right?
    Uta Burke
    Author of Immortal Link

  3. There is one more thing besides all of these really great ideas - emotion. I think without emotion for both the characters and the reader, the story falls flat. I started realizing this when I watched two movies set in about the same time period. One was a huge success, the other flopped. After studying them to figure out why - one had emotion, one did not. I really try to make sure I have as much as possible in my stories now.

  4. Under She did what? there's also the TSTL character. Often female, she's the one who goes down into the dark basement (I have no idea why they never turn a light on) with a candle or flashlight despite the fact there's a known killer in the area, targeting people just like her.

    It's for all the characters who, if they don't die in service of the plot, we wish they would.

  5. On another site, one of the lists of errors was dumping the reader into the arena with the lions before they know for whom to cheer.
    Another was not letting the reader know where and when the story is taking place.
    How does one reconcile opposing rules? Such questions can be paralyzing .

  6. Great post! Thanks for the reminders. We all need them now and again!

  7. Great reminders. I'd add - care about your main character and let it show or no one else will care about her, either. And they'll stop reading.

  8. Great tips! It's scary how often even experienced writers fall into these bad habits.

  9. I'm late, which is my new style lately. Great post again Ruth. I cringed as I read it. Why? Because I know I'm as guilty as that blonde at times. Thanks for this, and thank the original author, as well.

  10. While I think your entire list is worthwhile for a writer to consider, so is the post from 'anonymous' who points out throwing people into the action before they know who or what they're supposed to care about, isn't a great idea. At least, not for everybody. It depends upon the genre, the audience and what you're trying to achieve.