Jun 28 2008
This short article will help beginning novelists avoid another five common mistakes that might cause a publisher to throw out a manuscript.
You can see the first two articles in this series here and here.
11. Failing to name the main character (or waiting too long to do so) is usually a mistake. It will probably annoy readers and cause a publisher to reject the manuscript. Failing to name the main character forces the author to use goofy and circuitous writing to somehow avoid naming the character (perhaps as “the detective” or, worse, “the hero”). Failing to name the character also surrenders a great opportunity to build the character with a strong name. It also deprives the audience of an easy way to mentally refer to the character.
12. If your premise is unusual, reveal it upfront rather than trying to “surprise” readers with it later. Why wait 10 pages to tell us that the main character is a cat or a street-lamp? If your premise is interesting, there are readers that will appreciate the book for what it is. The best way to attract those readers is to tell them what your book is about. If you try to use your premise as a “surprise,” your audience will be comprised of readers that had no idea what they were getting into and probably won’t appreciate that you misled them. Holding back the premise almost always results in failure. One sign that you need to be more upfront about your premise is that your story hides information from the audience that the point-of-view character has, such as which species he belongs to. As a rule, the audience is entitled to everything relevant that the POV character knows.
13. Be careful with characters from traditional fantasy races, particularly elves and dragons. Elves and dragons are usually not really characters but instead collections of clichés.For example, elves are typically nature-loving, elegant, magical, perhaps obnoxiously arrogant and not much more. If you plan to use one of these cliché races, I highly recommend giving them a few unexpected character traits and creative negative aspects. Also, try to explore the reasoning behind some of the cliches you plan to use. Why do dragons like hording gold? Why are elves more nature-attuned than, say, dwarves or humans? Try to delve into their mindset beyond the cliches. What do dragons do for fun? Etc.
14. Don’t focus on irrelevant visual details. For example, many authors will describe the color of a character’s eyes and hair.That’s usually a mistake, because eye-color doesn’t suggest anything interesting about a character. It doesn’t matter if a character’s eyes are green rather than blue. In contrast, a relevant detail will show us something interesting about the character. A character with rough and sunworn skin is substantially different than someone with soft and milky skin.
The most effective visual details usually suggest something about the character’s lifestyle and personal choices.For example, does he wear his hair in a shaggy mop or does he have a Marine-style buzzcut?Either one of those would tell us more about the character than what color his hair is. Is he wearing the same Rush t-shirt he rolled out of bed in or has he had his outfit planned since last Tuesday? Etc.
15. Please, please do not give aliens “exotic” names like Qwe’rty-Uiop. Unpronounceable strings of letters are not exotic; they are completely unacceptable. A better way to create exotic-sounding alien names is by taking familiar sounds and then stringing them together.For example, Brad and Darian are familiar to your readers, and together they make Bradarian.If that’s not alien enough, you could cut off a few letters to make Bradar. Likewise, Tim and Milly could make Timilly or Timil. Alternatively, you could add some letters, so that Tim and Milly would make Intimilly.
This article was the third 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.