Jun 26 2008

5 More Mistakes of First-Time Novelists (#6-10)

This short article will help beginning novelists avoid another five common mistakes that will usually cause publishers to throw out a manuscript.

This article is a sequel to “Five Mistakes of First-Time Novelists,” which you can read here.

6. Please avoid using too many exotic substitutes for the word “said,” particularly words aren’t actually ways to speak. Consider the sentence “This sentence sounds really stupid,” the author scowled.Indeed, that sounds stupid! It’s a sloppy conflation of two actions (the speech and the scowl) that probably deserve two separate sentences. Alternatively, you could write it with a cleaner transition, like “he said with a scowl.”  Other words that usually shouldn’t be used in place of “said” include laughed, chuckled, smirked, sneered, smiled and wept.  For more advice on this subject, please see this article.

7. Please avoid using unspecified pronouns in the first sentence. They suggest the narrator is hiding something useful from the audience. “Until it happened, I had no idea how badly they had screwed me.” This author is obviously hiding what “it” and “they” are, which I think will anger readers and may convince a publisher to immediately reject you.  Remember, the secret to creating intrigue is giving us enough to wonder.You don’t have to spell out everything that happens to the character, but you do have to give us enough that we want to keep reading.For example, you could rewrite the above example as: “Until the dragon’s face exploded in a gooey mess, I had no idea how badly Adventurers, Inc. had screwed me.”

8.Please avoid niceties and other conversational filler.“Well, I’m doing fine.Can I get you anything to drink?”When you’re writing a story, every line must either develop a character or advance the plot.Unless the character is secretly planning to poison the drinks he brings out, his offer to get drinks is a waste of space.Get rid of it!

9. Don’t misuse the word “it’s!” If you’re trying to abbreviate the phrase it is, then you should use the contraction it’s. If you’re trying to use the possessive form of it, use its.Here is an example of a sentence that correctly uses both: “It’s obvious Yahoo is awesome, even though its search engine is too slow.”

10. Please do not overuse capitalized words, particularly in the beginning. “Dr. Mary Smith met Hugh Mackinack at the South Carolina County Fair.”You can probably remove some of these by making her Dr. Smith or just Mary.  You can change “South Carolina County Fair” into just “the county fair” and then reveal later that the state is South Carolina.

Another problem with capitalization is when authors capitalize words because they think it’ll be more dramatic.“I was 10 when the Problems started.” Improper capitalization usually comes off as goofy rather than dramatic, and capital letters almost always Look Awkward when they Shouldn’t Be There.

This article was the second 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.

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “5 More Mistakes of First-Time Novelists (#6-10)”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 20 Nov 2008 at 12:49 am

    6. I never do that. The only ways I really show who is speaking are with “said”, “exclaimed” or saying the character’s name, followed by something like “Wendy spoke first, breaking the silence”.

    7. Doesn’t apply.

    8. Oops. I have made a few mistakes in that category. I shall embark on a nicety hunt.

    9. Its obvious that misusing “it’s” and “its” is a big problem. I would think its enough to make a manuscript get thrown out on it’s butt. Haha.

    10. No Unnecessary Capitalization for Me. Haha.

  2. Steampossumon 23 May 2010 at 7:35 pm

    While niceties shouldn’t be OVERUSED, I believe that they can play an important role in padding a story with a touch of relatable humanity and making it seem less robotic and pushed along. Of course you don’t want them in every conversation, and you shouldn’t have a conversation consisting entirely of them, but a “Hey, how are you? Can I get you anything?” can be a good, humanizing “cushion” in a plot advancing conversation.

  3. esnippleeon 29 Jun 2010 at 3:32 pm

    i disagree with 6. i’ve heard its an american thing that amkes it incorrect. but i’ll still follow.
    its okay if your charries speak a language that /sounds/ like -whatever-ing?
    i’m always on a desperate search to find something less bland than “said”
    i sometimes end up with “replied” in a conversation.

    i write in third person anyways, for seven.

    my niceities don’t currently go that much further than “”hello” she said casually but quietly”but i’ll keep it in mind.

    9 and ten i will remember.

  4. Carolynon 01 Jul 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Oh my God, I want you do to a writing prompt where the first sentence is “Until the dragon’s face exploded in a gooey mess, I had no idea how bad Adventurer’s, Inc had screwed me.”!! lol

    For me, whenever I use “niceties” in the dialogue, its usually a way for me to show character personality. For instance, one character upon receiving guests immediately asks them if they want a cup of tea, to sit down, etc while another character when asked how they are responds that they hate small talk. What’s your opinion on that?

  5. B. McKenzieon 02 Jul 2015 at 6:44 pm

    “For instance, one character upon receiving guests immediately asks them if they want a cup of tea, to sit down, etc while another character when asked how they are responds that they hate small talk. What’s your opinion on that?” Hmm, that sounds logical. One character doing something pedestrian could be an opportunity to show another character reacting in a highly unusual way.

  6. Kivon 13 Mar 2018 at 1:59 pm

    6: I don’t think this is a problem… I’ve already figured this out in my own writing.

    7: Aside from Liz using They (because she, like the reader, has no idea who these people are) I don’t think this is much of a problem.

    8: This virtually never happens. Too busy discussing how to kill Clockworks or Sophi. Usually Sophi.

    9: Proud to say I already knew this.

    10: Don’t think Liz does this. The ‘They’ I mentioned earlier isn’t capitalized in text, I was just trying to emphasize the particular pronoun.

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