Friday, 28 May 2010

Frequent Writing Faults

Not the grammar or spelling type, but rather the kind of faults and habits that either creep into our writing,or stop us from writing altogether.

Writers are subject to many mistakes when writing, particularly novice writers, but the most common faults are down to how writers approach their writing. Here is a list of my favourite common faults/habits:


1. Overconfidence
2. Weakness in writing
3. Laziness
4. Opinionated Writing
5. Inhibitions
6. Overwriting
7. Incorrect information


Overconfidence – It’s universally known that when someone tells you how marvellous he or she is at something, there is a very high chance he or she is not. Take Britain’s Got Talent/American Idol – listen to those who espouse how fantastic they are and how the family think they’re great, only to indulge us, the audience, in toe curling car crash TV. Paradoxically, notice how those who are modest and humble, and are not quite sure about their ability, then come out and astound us.

The same is true of writers. There is nothing worse than a writer who champions himself/herself. Invariably it means they can’t write for toffee. Psychologically they need to fill that talent gap – so by building up their own capabilities they try to convince the rest of us that he or she is indeed incredibly talented and marvellous.

You never really truly know if you are good until you begin to receive feedback from other people and other writers. And even then, when you receive that positivity and praise from others and start to understand your own talent, keep that ego in check. Too much self belief can turn into arrogance.


Weakness in Writing – By this, I mean overall weakness with what you write. This could mean the whole story could be weak because it doesn’t engage the reader, or perhaps the characters are flat and have turned into caricatures. Maybe the descriptions are dull and nothing particularly happens. This would probably send your reader to sleep. If there is no conflict in the story, then the overall story will be very weak. The same is true of poor dialogue, which again will considerably weaken the story and not move it forward.


Laziness – This one tempts us all. Not to be confused with writers block, laziness is the physical manifestation of excuses. We’d rather sit with a tipple and enjoy the sunshine, or watch that must see movie or TV programme, go to the pub, anything other than write.

If you’re not planning your writing or not actually writing, then laziness has set in. Even if you write a couple of hundred words on that novel or short story, it’s something. If you don’t, then you’ll never get anywhere, and all you will achieve is an honours degree in procrastination.

The best way around laziness is to set yourself targets. It could be 50 words, a hundred words, a page, or maybe it could be time based, like an hour, two hours, whatever suits you. At least you would have written or planned something, even when sometimes you don't feel like it. We all have off days, after all. It's how you manage your off days that count.


Opinionated Writing – We all have opinions, but sometimes writers blur the distinction with objective and subjective writing. In laymen’s terms, this type of writing – preaching one’s own views and opinions - happens frequently. What you feel deeply about something in real life must never creep into what you write where fiction is concerned, or into your characters.

For instance, if you are religious, you must not use your fiction as a platform to dictate your views. You need to be objective, perhaps have characters that are the opposite of what you yourself believe. Similarly, you may abhor smoking, but again, have characters that smoke profusely, or drink or sleep around or hate politics…

There may be a little of you in your characters and their situations, but make sure your views aren’t.


Inhibitions – Some of us have them, some of us don’t. Whether it’s writing blood curdling horror, or scenes of brutality, violence, rape, or even using foul language, at the back your mind you are wondering what your partner, children or parents might think of what you’ve written.

Of course, the number one hang up of all time is sex. Writers spend a lot of time worrying over it, yet it’s an integral part of our lives. It’s surprising how many writers just can’t write about it. What would granny think? Well, actually it doesn’t matter what granny thinks, or anyone else. We all have emotions and we express them in many ways. It’s up to you as a writer to convey those emotions – be it sex, violence or bad language, without worrying too much about what everyone else thinks. After all, you’re a writer, and what you write isn’t real.


Overwriting – Every writer is guilty of this at one point or another, because we can all waffle to the point of boring someone. Sentences, paragraphs, even a whole raft of chapters can go on and on…

Sometimes we overstate things to get the point across, but most of the time, this isn’t necessary. If you’ve written well enough, the reader will get it. Overwriting happens when you get right into the flow and just go with it. This is fine, but at the editing stage you should be looking to cut back at least 20% of your work, because that’s how much unnecessary waffle lurks in your story. Read the work aloud. This is an excellent way of tuning into your story and ‘hearing’ it. You’ll notice the unnecessary waffle, clich├ęs, the really bad dialogue, and the glaring errors.

Of course, it’s also true that less is more.


Incorrect Information (Lack of Research) - Lots of writing will contain all sorts of errors because the writer hasn’t done any research into his or her main subject. Writing about what you know is one thing, but writing about what you don’t know is another thing entirely.

Most of the time you can write around people, locations and events without too much realism, by blurring the distinction between fiction and fact. For instance, your story takes place somewhere in London, but you give the setting some fictitious road names. There are occasions, however, when it’s necessary to impart a snippet of reality, like the name of a particular road, or building, or something about the city, which is integral to your story.

Get even the simplest of facts wrong, and you could corrupt your entire work, because your agent, publisher or even your reader will spot them.

The joy of being a writer is that you are on a constant journey of knowledge. Always research, however insignificant, the piece you are writing, because the more knowledge you have, the more realistic your writing becomes.


Next time: Exposition – Show, Don’t Tell.

2 comments:

  1. Great article.

    Agree with what you've said. Especially the inhibitions part. Whenever I sit down to write nothing is taboo. Luckily I have a family that know what to expect, they always lower their moral benchmark before picking up something of mine.

    Overwriting, I find that if after the second draft you haven't removed a quarter of the word count snipping the 'does this move the story along' then you're not being subjective enough. I'm the worst for wittering on in the first draft.

    Laziness is still a thorn. I'm very much idle and practically have to force myself to sit down and get some words out the majority of the time.

    Over Confidence, there is more than just a fine line. You need some confidence in your writing for there to be the fire there. Those that use bluster need to take more of a 'show me how good you are, not tell me'


    As I said, great post AJ, looking forward to your next.

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  2. More great information and advice. Thanks, AJ.

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