Jun 26 2008
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 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 will infuriate 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.