Writing group

5 common mistakes in writing and how you can fix them

 

It’s very important to remember that every writer is different. They have their own views, their own opinions and their own way of doing everything.

But while every writer is different, there are some common writing mistakes that every writer makes. Whether you’re a new writer, or one who has been writing for years I’m sure we all still make mistakes when writing the first draft.

Here are five common mistakes, and how you can fix them.

 

Telling not showing

There’s a certain balance you need with show and tell, but one trap writers often fall into is telling too much.

Telling us how the characters are feeling or what they’re doing can take away from your story. You don’t need to explain every little detail of the story. You need to be able to trust your reader, to read in between the lines and use their imagination.

Using action tags to show us what the characters are doing can go a long way to show the reader how they’re feeling. Excessive use of adverbs with dialogue tags

Keep an eye on your use of the words ‘feel,’ and ‘saw.’ These can be clear indicators that you’re telling rather than showing.

‘I don’t know what you want me to say!’ Ellen shouted angrily.

vs

Ellen clenched her fists, her jaw tightening. ‘I don’t know what you want me to say!’

 

Over explaining

This is often known as purple prose. The flowery language of writers who take the time to set the scene, who have to over-explain every little detail.

This is usually seen when a writer sets the scene, detailling every aspect of the room the characters are standing in, or where they think the reader has to know every detail of the First Battle of Fay to understand the rest of the plot.

Large paragraphs of info-dumps or scene setting can push the reader out of the novel. Mixing these details within the rest of the scene- such as dialogue- is a great way to reveal scene and plot details in a subtle way without over-whelming your reader.

 

Repetition

Repetition is where you explain something in an exposition paragraph, and then have the characters explain it in dialogue a few lines down.

It’s also where you continusouly tell the readers the colour of your characters eyes, or hair.  Or describe a setting we visit all the time, every single time we see it.

Repetition is where you explain something in an exposition paragraph, and then have the characters explain it in dialogue a few lines down.

Don’t underestimate your readers. The best thing about reading is getting absorbed in the story and using your imagination. If you’ve explained something as part of an info dump of information, you don’t need the characters to relay that information again through dialogue. You’re readers aren’t stupid- you only need to tell them once.

You also don’t need to continuosly refer to the characters appearance. Your readers aren’t going to forget that your protagonist has blond hair, or two different coloured eyes. Once they have a picture in their mind, it’s going to stay there.

 

Laundry lists

In the same vein as over-explaining, this is where you explain every aspect of a characters outfit, usually to tell the reader exactly what they look like. After all, style can say a lot about your character as a person.

‘He looked to be around 35, with a strong jaw and bright eyes. He was wearing a threadbare white jumper with a woollen cardigan haphazardly tied around his waist, a pair of paint splattered jeans with penny sized holes dotting around the ankles and a pair of sandals. He had a necklace of wooden beads dangling around his neck. His blond hair was tied in a pony tail, and he had a cow shaped mug in his hand, a curly straw peeping over the lip.’

But just like over-explaining, your readers don’t need to know everything at once. Add clothing descriptions to dialogue and action tags to describe your characters in a more natural way.

‘He tightened the woollen cardigan around his waist.’

‘He tapped his sandalled feet.’

‘He picked at one of the hols in his paint-splattered jeans.’

 

Headhopping

Now, this isn’t anything regarding using different POV in a novel. It’s perfectly fine to switch POV’s, as long as you make it clear to your reader you’ve switched- such as using separate chapters for each POV, (Think Game of Thrones, Six of Crows and The Lost Hero.)

Headhopping is when you have a clear POV in your novel- such as your protagonist- but half way through a scene, you spend a moment showing the reader the thoughts of a different character.

Aly sighed as she recalled the conversation. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it now. She wasn’t angry anymore, but she still didn’t accept what her mum had told her. ‘I did.’
‘And what did she say?’
‘Well she didn’t exactly admit it.’ Aly fidgeted against the soft cushions, her fingers hiding in her sleeves. ‘But she didn’t deny it either. She just said she didn’t want me involved.’
‘Parenting 101,’ muttered Mac. He looked at Aly as she glanced around the room. ‘Clever.’

With POV, the key is to be consistent. As a person, you don’t know what other people are thinking, you can only guess. Head hopping can confuse your reader, especially if you’ve already established one POV. Your novel will be stronger- the readers bond with the protagonist will be stronger- if you keep your eyes on them throughout it all.

 

What are some writing mistakes you’ve made when writing your novel?

Good thoughts and happy writing!

 

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3 thoughts on “5 common mistakes in writing and how you can fix them”

  1. Laundry lists and over-explaining are definitely two of my biggest issues. The problem is, when I try to resolve them, then my beta readers think that I’m not describing enough! Finding that balance is so tricky, heheh…

    Like

  2. Yes to all of this, especially “You also don’t need to continuosly refer to the characters appearance.” I find myself doing this as I write the drafts, but forgetting to adjust it all back so there aren’t so many references. Thanks for so many great tips.

    Like

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