Jul 21 2008

Five More Mistakes of First-Time Authors (#31-35)

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

31. Don’t neglect a character’s personality, motivation and background in favor of his capabilities. I have no doubt that your character’s magical talents, superpowers or combat skills are interesting, but it doesn’t matter how well he can fight if we don’t know why he’s fighting. If the only thing we know about your wizard is the content of his spellbook, I can guarantee that we don’t care about him.

32. A character’s capabilities are usually not as interesting as how he acquired them. Telling us that your character is a Navy SEAL or a wizard or whatever is not very dramatic or impressive. Show us some of his training and his abilities will impress us more. Additionally, training scenes are a great opportunity to develop the character in tandem with his capabilities.

33. Please don’t use needlessly long phrases. For example, “all of a sudden” can be condensed into “suddenly.” “In order to” can usually be replaced by “to” or “because.” For a much more thorough examination of how to weed out unnecessary words, please see The Elements of Style.

34. Details are the alpha and omega of strong writing. Readers will care less about a protagonist that drives a beige Nissan than one that drives a charred, smoking ruin of a car. This also relates to the commonplace advice that writers should “show” rather than “tell” their readers what is going on. Details are essential to showing us what’s going on. Rather than telling us that someone is nervous, show us the nail-biting and mumbling and pacing and fidgeting.

35. When you try to portray what something looks like, show us more than the color. There are so many better ways to visualize someone than by telling us that they have brown eyes or black hair. Please read this article for more details.

This article was the seventh part of a series. If you’d like to read about how to avoid other common writing mistakes, please see the other articles.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Five More Mistakes of First-Time Authors (#31-35)”

  1. esnippleeon 29 Jun 2010 at 8:49 pm

    31. okay.
    32. yes.
    33. hmm… got to check something.
    34 okay
    35 okay

  2. Kivon 13 Mar 2018 at 2:37 pm

    31: Don’t think I’ve ever done this…

    32: I think I got this one.

    33: Okay, will try.

    34: YES. SHOW NOT TELL. Liz does this a lot because she isn’t super good with words.

    35: Duly noted.

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