The road to becoming a fiction author is a long, often challenging one that can be scary for many new writers. There’s so much to do: research, write, rewrite, edit, and re-edit. But, sadly many new authors fall into the same writing traps as those that came before them.
However, these mistakes can be avoided, if you know what to look for. That’s why we’ve put together a list of common mistakes new authors easily make when working on their first book.
Lack of Editing
A common trap new authors fall into is thinking that editing their writing is as easy as a quick proofread (looking for spelling mistakes and typos). Unfortunately, it’s a lot more detailed than that. One of the most important things to consider when editing your own work is patience. You need to prepare yourself for the possibility of cutting chunks of texts and re-writing or even the prospect of starting from scratch.
My Top Tip. When you think your story is the best you can make it, put it aside and leave it for as long as possible — minimum one week. Then read it out aloud. Your errors will leap up at you like snarling dogs! Now rewrite it”. – Sally Zigmond
If you need some help figuring out how to best edit your work, check out our article on self-editing here. Following some simple editing steps can help strengthen the quality and readability of your manuscript and the chances of it being picked up by a publisher or agent.
Poor Use of Dialogue
This is one we’re all familiar with as readers, the clumsy dialogue that sounds unnatural, and the always-popular characters that all sound the same. New writers have the tendency to forget that dialogue is used to convey important information and enhance characters. What it shouldn’t do is be used to make long confessional speeches or to engage in too much ‘cosy chit chat’. But, most importantly it should sound real as if it’s two regular people having a conversation.
Ultimately you want your dialogue to show your readers something extra whether it is a window to your characters souls, to heighten tension, or to reveal a twist in the plot. Writers Digest has a useful 5 step guide on writing dialogue for fiction that you can find here. This article will give you an idea of what effective dialogue sounds like and how to mimic that in your own writing.
A practical exercise you can try is: Take your notebook and pen somewhere public, like a cafe or your next train journey. Sit quietly and listen. Observe the conversations around you and jot down any interesting topics, mannerisms, and different ways of expression. This will be a useful device to turn to when you need an additional touch of authenticity to your dialogue/characters.
Your plot is the underlying basis of your book. Without the plot you have no story, no story means no book and that’s two words no new writer wants to hear. Plot flaws is a relatively broad concept, it can encompass everything from the slow start, a sagging midsection, uneven pacing, using gimmicks as hooks, or unreliable details. There are a lot of ways plots can go wrong but with a little awareness this can be avoided. Begin by starting with the story telling methods your primary school teacher taught you, beginning, middle, and end. Of course, we don’t mean to suggest that your novel should or has to be linear or traditionally plotted, these are simply elements of your story you should know, even if you choose to leave them out, or present them in a non-linear structure.
When it comes to plots, especially complicated ones, planning or using a timeline can really help authors find the holes before they even put pen to paper. If you’re not a fan of the plan, perhaps it might be worthwhile plotting out major events in dot points after you finish your manuscript, to see if everything makes sense.
Start with a goal and go from there because:
Without a goal, a plot becomes just a haphazard series of events with no meaning or purpose – one that will leave the reader wondering, ‘What was the point of that story’ “- Glen C. Strathy.
Telling Instead of Showing
The art of writing lies in a writer’s ability to show their readers the world and people they’ve created. Anyone could tell you the cat walked down the street, but it takes a writer to put you in the cat’s skin, or walking alongside of it, experiencing the heat of the pavement or the stickiness of the summer air. Similarly, telling distances the reader from the story, whereas showing draws them in close – you want to achieve the latter.
Many new writers mistakenly resort to large chunks of explanation, often because it’s easier than trying to express the story in a way that the reader can experience it, not just read it. Writing fiction is more than putting words on a page, it’s about creating a world. If you remember this while you’re writing your story will be considerably stronger and your readers are more likely to engage with your work.
Often during the process of writing, authors develop ‘pet phrases’ or ‘pet sayings’ – these are little terms/quirks they associate with certain settings or characters that they tend to repeat throughout the manuscript. This unnecessary repetition can be found within sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters and the overall book. Chances are, the author won’t realise they’ve done it which is why editing is so important. Although repetition can be used to place emphasis, authors need to be careful they don’t overdo it.
Writing your first book is a lengthy process that shouldn’t be rushed. The points listed above are just a handful of common mistakes new writers make while working through their first book. If you take your time, plan your writing carefully, and go back over your work you can avoid making unnecessary mistakes. However, making these mistakes isn’t anything to be ashamed of, it’s all part of the learning process and in the long run making the mistakes and fixing them will strengthen your writing.