Jun 25 2008
This short article will help beginning novel-writers avoid five common mistakes that will usually cause publishers to throw out a manuscript.
1. Please do not have a character gaze at his own reflection in a mirror, pool or any other reflective surface. That’s a cheesy way to describe what a character looks like and will cause most professional publishers to reject your manuscript. Fortunately, there are better ways for you to establish a character’s appearance than having him gaze at himself, such as his actions, backstory and dialogue. If he nervously steps on a scale, we’ll visualize him as overweight. If he’s a boxer, we’ll visualize him as well-built.
2. Be careful with scenes that feature characters eating. Eating scenes are typically boring filler. Every scene should either develop a character or advance the plot, but eating scenes are usually extended chats with sensory imagery mixed in. Don’t let your novel manuscript sound like a food review.
If you use an eating scene, make it interesting by adding danger or intrigue. Perhaps the dinner is part of some larger conflict, like a white woman bringing home a black fiancee to her disapproving family. Or maybe someone’s poisoned the food. As a rule of thumb, if the scene is about what the characters are eating, it probably sounds more like a food review than a story.
3. Please don’t switch point-of-view midchapter. Switching POV mid-chapter will disorient and confuse readers. Generally, it’s smoother and less confusing to add a chapter-break whenever you want to switch POV. If something has happened that’s important enough to make you want to change POVs, it’s probably important enough to justify a chapter-break.
4. Even if you’re writing medieval fantasy, I’d recommend avoiding melodramatic syntax and language. Phrases like “is it not?” and anything that sounds Shakespearean tend to disorient modern audiences. You don’t have to use modern slang, of course, but you are writing for a modern audience. So please make sure that modern audiences can easily read your book! One way you can combine an old-fashioned style with modern legibility is by avoiding contractions. Depending on how old your readers are, you might also consider using longer sentences.
Relatedly, I’d advise against quoting Shakespeare and other classical English authors. It may come off as pretentious, particularly if your novel is written for casual and/or younger readers.
5. I recommend avoiding characters that switch back and forth between several species. These characters are often usually poorly-developed Mary Sues.
This article was the first part of a series. If you’d like to read about how to avoid other common writing mistakes, you’ll find the links just below.