Following on from last time with the most common writing mistakes that writers fall foul, here are a few more that are common among writers, especially those new to writing:
Lack of conflict
Lots of writers don’t pay attention to this. In every story there must be conflict. That conflict comes in many ways – from other characters, from outside influences or it comes from within the main character. These incidents and obstacles all demand reaction and resolution, and often escalate towards the denouement, so without all this, the story will fall flat.
Think of it this way – your main character needs purpose, which means there is a story, but people (and other things) get in the way of that and often cause problems. And with problems there is often some kind of conflict. The main character has to overcome all this to get to the end of the story.
The outcome of all this? The conflict advances the story.
Run-on sentences/Comma splices
Everyone does it, no matter their experience, and often writers don’t know what run on sentences or comma splices are.
A run-on sentence contains two or more independent clauses. An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb that can stand alone as a sentence which is not connected by punctuation – a co-ordinating conjunction (and, but, or etc.). So, in effect, the sentences simply ‘run on’ to each other without the correct punctuation, for example:
John knew the risk in the back of his mind but time was running out he knew the danger.
In this example, each independent clause is not separated with punctuation, so they run on. With the correct co-ordination conjunction added and punctuation, the sentence then becomes grammatically correct:
John knew the risk in the back of his mind, but time was running out and he knew the danger.
Comma splices are really no different, because when you join two independent clauses with a comma, but leave out the conjunction, you create a poorly structured sentence, like this:
John grabbed the glass, he guzzled the cold drink.
‘John grabbed the glass’ is an independent clause. ‘He guzzled the cold drink’ is also an independent clause. These two sentences are ‘spliced’ together with the comma. To correct this, the correct conjunction should be added, for example:
John grabbed the glass and guzzled the cold drink.
Writers use the comma splice all the time without even realising it. It really is that common. It takes practice to spot them, but eventually writers will get used to identifying them and will avoid using them.
Bad dialogue is often found with new writers who haven’t yet got to grips with it or how it’s formatted. Fortunately that eventually comes with experience.
Dialogue is one of the most effective ways to deliver information to the reader in terms of what is happening in the story - it moves the story along while at the same time it reveals characterisation.
Readers want realistic but dynamic dialogue. Each character should have a distinct voice that matches his/her character. Readers don’t want mundane stuff that has no bearing on the story, like conversations about the weather or popping to get groceries. And they don’t want to listen to wooden, clichéd conversation either.
If you listen to real conversations, they are often brief in structure. Someone says something no more than a sentence or two long, then the other person speaks, then back to the other person. This is why writers avoid long conversations that interrupt the action too much. It’s all about pace. Mingle the pace of dialogue – some brief, a smattering of slightly longer, and brief again.
Readers want the tension and mood from dialogue, but most of all, they want emotion. Keep it varied, keep it pertinent to the story and always move the story forward.
New writers overuse clichés and hackneyed phrases. But that’s normal for those new to story writing. Everything improves with experience.
Clichés creep in when the writer doesn’t use new ways of describing things. Often they pick something that is familiar, such as ‘as quick as a flash’, ‘he was as fit as a fiddle’ or ‘it was gut wrenching’. When these phrases were first used, they were obviously not clichés. They were new and fresh. But the more phrases and words get used, the more stale they become.
So to avoid them, writers need to come up with new, fresh and dynamic phrases and descriptions; the kind of things we haven’t heard before. It’s the kind of thing that will make your work stand out above others.
Editing As You Go
The raw draft is the bare bones of any novel and writers just need to get it written, however, many writers can’t resist the temptation to go back and edit what they’ve done before they continue writing. While this may seem absolutely fine, the advice is to leave editing for when the raw draft is written. And there is a very good reason why. If you're constantly self-editing as you go, you will impede the process, you’ll create further problems down the line and eventually the writing will grind to a halt.
You can’t edit something that has yet to be written. In other words, if you tweak around with chapter 14, but this will have a direct bearing on a plot revelation in chapter 32, then you will have impeded the process. The plot changes as we write, it grows with the story, we add sub-plots and more themes and so on, but none of this is possible if you edit as you go, because things will be missed or you won’t spot stuff. This is why it’s so important to write the bare bones and then do a read through and do the first full edit.
Next week: Dealing with rejections