Jul 01 2008
This short article will help beginning novelists avoid another five common mistakes that will usually cause publishers to reject a manuscript.
16. Please try to avoid overloading readers with imaginary words, particularly in the title and introduction. The names of your fictional cities, kingdoms, races, artifacts, historical events, scientific mumbo-jumbo, etc. are almost certainly less interesting to us than you think they are. Throwing around made-up words will probably drown us in a setting we aren’t yet familiar with. Remember, CS Lewis didn’t title his book “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Instead, he carefully introduced us to four British children before using fictional words like Narnia and Aslan. Likewise, Harry Potter waited 50 pages before introducing alien concepts like “Muggle” and “Quidditch.” Please try to be gradual. This is one of the most serious problems in the typical fantasy manuscript.
17. Please revise characters that are Mary Sues. A Mary Sue is a character that is an idealized version of the author. Some symptoms are that Mary Sues are typically very powerful, well-liked by the other characters (except for stupid or jealous ones), they lack significant flaws and are usually marked by a great destiny or unusual background. You can use online tests to help diagnose whether your character is a Mary Sue. Mary Sues are poor characters because they are two-dimensionally perfect and are rarely complex or interesting. Because their authors won’t challenge them, Mary Sue plots tend to lack adversity and suspense.
Fortunately, Mary Sues are easy to fix. For example, you can give your characters some interesting flaws and make her opponents/obstacles a bit more sympathetic and powerful.For example, if your character wants to be an adventurer, it would definitely be a flaw to have been born and raised to be an accountant. But reading about an accountant struggling to be an adventurer would be far more interesting than another half-dragon/half-demon/star-crossed farmboy/etc. If your character has some unusual background, I’d recommend fleshing that lineage out and making it more of an obstacle. Maybe the werewolf gets a crazy urge to eat raw meat at inconvenient times and relies on smell and taste more than sight and sound.
18. Please don’t draw the readers attention to something that the point-of-view character doesn’t notice. “Agent Black didn’t hear the assassin sneaking up behind him.” If Agent Black is meant to be the POV, that’s disorientating. If Agent Black didn’t hear it, whose perspective are we actually getting this from?
This is a tricky problem. If you rewrote that scene 100% from Black’s perspective, Black will be sitting around until he suddenly passes out (when the assassin hits him). Readers will be really confused why he suddenly passed out; it’s not intuitive that he was ambushed. It would probably be more effective to describe Agent Black’s sensation as the assassin’s weapon hits him in the back of the head. If a reader knows that Black has suffered a tremendous blow to the back of his skull, he could probably deduce that Black has been ambushed.
19. Starting stories with a character waking up is usually dull and ineffective. There’s probably a more gripping way to introduce us to the character and story than describing his daily routine. For example, why did you chose to start the story on this day? What does he do today that’s so interesting you want to tell a story about him? It’s probably not waking up.
20. Please avoid giving us play-by-play narration, where the narrator explains the character’s actions as he’s doing them. “I remembered that he had claimed to be out of Miami when the crime was committed. I only had to get him to admit that he was at the Dolphins game that night and he was sunk.”
Perhaps your readers won’t immediately appreciate why his strategy is crafty. If we won’t remember why it’s so important to get the suspect to admit to being at the Dolphins game, for example, then your character can explain his strategy to an ally beforehand. That’s a much better approach than trying to describe it to the reader as he’s trying to carry it out. It’s easier to appreciate his cleverness if we understand what the plan is beforehand rather than just get a piecemeal take on his next move.
This article was the fourth 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.