Today I wanted to talk about a common question that I’ve gotten since I started giving writing advice. Strangely enough that has to do with mistakes. Everyone wants to know more than just what to do, they want to know what not to do. Here are my top 5 mistakes that I see beginning writers make. Now these mistakes aren’t just exclusive to beginners, anybody can actually make these mistakes. The first step to correcting it is always to realize what you’re actually doing wrong and then the better you get as a writer the easier it will be to avoid these things.
Number one: Wasted words
A lot of new writers are concerned about writing enough that it qualifies as a substantial novel or they’re concerned about writing enough about every single scene that the reader can picture perfectly in their minds.
Every beginning writer worries about this but I’ve come to realize as most writers do at some point that they have plenty to say there’s no need to over explain a scene. Oftentimes the reader can build an image in their mind with minimal description from you. A huge cause of this is actually excitement for writing. You’re finally doing it, you’re finally sitting down to write a story that’s been in your mind for who knows how long, but sometimes at the end of a writing session you may find that you’ve written 1,600 words about your character brushing their teeth and picking out their wardrobe. You’re on the right track if you’re excited to be writing, but you need to make sure that you weed out all these extra words in the editing phase to keep yourself from falling in the word emic word trap. You should periodically ask the question is this part really necessary? You should always make sure that each part you write contributes something to the story.
If it’s not developing your character or creating suspense, adding tension or setting the scene then you probably shouldn’t take the time to write it. Some people might think well, I want people to know exactly what my character is wearing so the scene feels real. For specific questions like this I often find there’s an easy solution available. In regards to clothing, you can always describe the type of clothing the character wears and then you don’t have to talk about it again. For example, you can mention that your main character loves to dress in casual comfy clothes and then you don’t really have to go into specifics anymore. Every time after that that you mentioned them getting dressed you can just say they got dressed. The reader already knows that that person likes a particular type of clothes so they’re probably not going to draw up this crazy off-the-wall image of what your characters wearing. Your readers are pretty smart. Just make sure you don’t shove a bunch of description down your readers throat because really no one wants to read about your character brushing their teeth unless the toothpaste has poison in it.
Number two: Not Enough Voice or I should just say problems with voice.
This is one thing that sometimes takes writers a little while to figure out their own voice. I think two things affect the type of voice that you have (1 the stories that you tell and then (2 the way that you tell them. When reading a novel this can sometimes be the feel of the novel.Your voice can be brief, eloquent, lyrical, or fast-paced. Every author’s story feels different in some way and this is what you want. Many times writers can be drawn to a particular subject because they’re passionate about it and passion is very important for writers. The way that each person writes that story though, varies greatly depending on the sentence structure, word choice and individual stylistic preferences. Stephen King’s little red riding-hood would sound nothing like Marissa Meyers because they have different voices even though they would both be about a little red writing.
Finding your voice can take time and unfortunately the best way to do that is to continue writing. You can also find your voice through reading. Things you don’t like and in things that you love. Over time you’ll end up incorporating these small things into your own writing and molding your own unique voice. It’s good to be different from one another so you should never try to copy somebody else’s voice. If you’re inspired by someone’s voice that’s a different thing. You might actually find yourself guilty of this after rereading a lot of the same authors books. You can subconsciously adopt their voice. You will discover it when you reread what you have just written. Because it wasn’t your voice you were being an impostor. Don’t steal someone else’s voice because your reader will probably know.
Number three: Lack of conflict or too much.
You need action in a story. If you get to the end of a chapter and nothing has physically happened you are NOT going have this. You don’t need explosions running in every single chapter but physical things need to occur and oftentimes the best way to do that is through conflict.
Now there can be internal conflicts and there can be external conflict. Each chapter needs at least one of these when I read all about a character’s day and nothing happens it gets really boring I’ve said this before but each word that you choose is precious. You need to hook your readers and then keep them hooked. A really good way to do that is through conflict. Pretty much, things just need to happen to your character. If you reflect on your own day, sometimes things just don’t go your way in the long run. They may not necessarily be relevant to your story line, but it’s kind of a bonus if they are.
There is such a thing as too much conflict though. A balance must be maintained as with most aspects of writing. You never want your readers to go through unnatural conflict and tenses. A lot of errors that come along with tenses actually have to do with using simple past and past perfect incorrectly.
Here is a grammar rundown really quickly: just watching simple past is obviously recounting something that happened in the past past perfect. Recounting something that happened leading up to an event that happened in the past past perfect often involves certain key words like already, until, before and sometimes. After for example, I went to pick up my car, but they had already taken the engine apart. That is a past perfect sentence. If you want more examples, I would definitely Google until you get the hang of this. It can get really tricky when you switch from simple past to past perfect and then back to simple past. If you’re already writing in the past tense and a character flashes back to a point further in their past, then you must use past perfect even though technically they’re both in the past.
Most grammar rules can be learned naturally through reading without all the confusion of these explanations, but this one in particular I had to take time to research before I learned all these differences. I could read a sentence and know that something was wrong with it. I just wouldn’t have know what exactly it was. If this sometimes happens to you, then I would take a look at your tenses or see if there’s some other grammatical mistakes in your sentences
Number 5: Always show and not tell.
Sometimes telling is the better option. Show doesn’t ever have to be longer than tell. It just has to make the reader feel. This goes along very much with number 1 which was wasted words. You don’t want to ramble on and on about something if it can take you just a few words to tell it instead. Showing is what makes us feel so much more for the characters. You just have to make sure that you don’t use too many words to do the showing. Oftentimes when I find something out of balance in the show area, it has to do with the characters emotions or how they react to something. Typically you should never shy away from putting your reader in the characters seat and describing exactly what they’re feeling, how their gut felt or how their chest felt tight or whatever the case may be or is. If they’re angry during the break-up you should use more than just the words for the emotions. All right so that’s all I have for you today. I hope you enjoyed this lesson.