Jul 22 2008

Five More Mistakes of First-Time Authors (#36-40)

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


36. If you want to add a romance, make sure the love-interest is a character we will actually want to read about. Why does the protagonist love her? If you answered “because she is beautiful” or “because she is the story’s most important female,” the romance is contrived and will probably bore readers. Can you name three of the love interest’s main traits? Did you have to use bland traits like “nice” or “sweet” or refer to her physical attractiveness? If so, then you need to develop her more before we will care about whether the hero is able to win her heart. If you want to write a romantic plot, the love interest has to be more than just a status symbol.  For example, the love-interest may show something new about the character– the closest Superman gets to human is when he’s courting Lois Lane.

37. Don’t have your characters repeatedly refer to each other by name. This is amateurish because it feels stilted and goofy. (“I love you, John.” “I love you too, Martha.” “I know, John”). If you aren’t sure that readers will be able to determine who’s saying each line, a conversation tag will probably be more effective. For example: “I love you,” she said.

38. Make sure you know the difference between “affect” and “effect.” Affect is almost always a verb. Effect is almost always a noun.  There are a few rare exceptions, but they are generally pretentious.  Unless you’re writing for a high-brow publication (like a psychology or philosophy journal), I do not recommend using them.   If you’d like to learn more about the difference between “affect” and “effect,” please see this article from wiseGEEK.

39. Don’t let quotation marks ruin your punctuation. Beginning writers have three main problems with quotations.

  • When you end a quote without a “he said” tag, place a period before the final quotation mark. For example: “I’m ready to go home.”
  • If you include a tag, place a comma before the final quotation mark. For example: “Let’s go,” she said. Notice that “she” is not capitalized here.
  • When your sentence ends with a question mark, the conversational tag should be uncapitalized. For example: “Are you leaving?” he asked.

40. Avoid details and comparisons that are inconsistent with your setting. It’s jarring for a Tolkienesque fantasy story to refer to modern technology. For example, if you want to describe what a screaming dragon sounds like, don’t compare it to a smoke detector unless your world has smoke detectors. Likewise, your science fiction story should not compare anything to magic unless your sci-fi world has magic.

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

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Five More Mistakes of First-Time Authors (#36-40)”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 21 Nov 2008 at 5:28 am

    I’m planning on Isaac eventually falling for Kamari, but her looks have absolutely nothing to do with it. When she will first appear, she hides her face from him and he will hide his from her. It guarantees a greater degree of safety: if one of them is captured, they can’t possibly reveal anything about the other.

    Will these reasons be good enough?

    He falls for her because:

    She is unlike the other girls he has met. She sees the world in a different light and takes nothing for granted, having recovered from a terminal disease that would have killed her in months.

    Kamari is so far the only girl he knows who doesn’t swoon over his alter ego. He finds it refreshing, because everyone else is tracking his every movement and blogging about him (I know I would be if a superhero turned up), when she’s like: “I don’t care. Whatever. Guardian who?”

    She insists that she doesn’t need a guy to define herself. Kamari has confidence.

    (He’ll learn this after he sees her face) She isn’t obsessed with her appearance. If she has a clean shirt and a pair of jeans, she’ll go out wearing them. She doesn’t spend half an hour doing her make-up or hair.

    Things he dislikes about her:

    He feels that she changes her mind quickly and erratically. One second she’ll be sat next to him without a problem, the next they’ll be screaming at each other.

    Isaac sometimes feels like she is the way the problems started: if her father hadn’t gotten the formula stolen for her, then there wouldn’t be a bunch of superpowered psychos out to kill her. She has no problem in pointing out that he was the one stupid enough to get his DNA stolen in the first place.

    She falls for him because:

    Isaac respects her enough not to constantly hit on her the way that some others do.

    He listens and cares about what she has to say, though they do argue at times and have a huge fallout at one point. This carries over into the next book, where they realise the lies they have told each other (She isn’t 13, she’s 15, he isn’t 21, he’s 16. She isn’t from a family of unemployed people, her dad owns Libra Electronics etc) which makes them argue more. But it will be resolved by the end.

    He isn’t one of those “I am a robot. I do not have emotions” guys who never admit their vulnerabilities.

    She thinks his clumsiness is kind of cute, describing him as “a monkey trying to roller blade on marbles”. She nicknames him “Stumbler”.

    Things she dislikes about him:

    She hates it when he mutters under his breath about crap that has happened since they met. “As though I’m Pandora with the stupid box!”

    Kamari doesn’t like it when his ideas work better than hers. They’re constantly competing, thinking that if one of them gets more productive plans then they somehow win the feud.

    Basically, they’re like a “I hate you, so why do I love you?” sort of couple.

    What do you think? Thanks!

  2. Bretton 21 Nov 2008 at 6:04 am

    Interesting. Their relationship is very complex. Take my advice with a grain of salt because romance (real or fictional) is NOT my strong point. This evidenced by the fact that the only romance in my book goes horribly, horribly wrong and throws the main character into a fit of depression.

    That being said, something doesn’t click here. First, I don’t think an “I hate you, so why do I love you?”will last very long. Also, Isaac seems to be a fairly logical and rational guy, so the idea that he would fall for someone so erratic and then get locked into an “I hate you, so why do I love you?” romance is a tad strange. I’d rework that a bit. Instead of completely erratic, I’d make her intelligent, but quirky. Trust me, logical and intelligent guys love intelligent but quirky girls. I don’t know why, we…ahem…they just do.

    And might I say that for someone of your age, this is very impressive. You’re in middle school, right?

  3. B. Macon 21 Nov 2008 at 7:00 am

    I don’t feel particularly confident reviewing romantic plotlines. Here’s my best attempt.

    Mmm… one of the things I like about the romance is that Isaac eventually falls for Kamari. That will give you a chance to build a relationship between them before the romance. Many romances fail or fall short because the author and character treat a love-at-first-sight romance as far more important than the readers do. Introducing the character first will help build our connection to the character before their romantic relationship balloons in importance.

    “Isaac respects her enough not to constantly hit on her the way that some others do.” Erm, you probably have a better perspective on this than I do, but how much does a 15 year old get hit on? Unless she’s extremely good-looking, it seems odd to me that she’d be attracted to Isaac because he’s the only guy that’s not hitting on her. Then again, I’m exceedingly prudish, so my own experiences in this regard are probably not typical.

    Erraticness may be a difficult trait to work with. When she swings from one mood to another, readers may feel like she’s very hard to follow.

  4. Ragged Boyon 21 Nov 2008 at 12:14 pm

    I like to think I’m good with romance (maybe I’m not, I don’t know) , this romance seems like a chase, but that’s good. Upon building their relationship, Isaac gradually begins with pick-up lines that Kamari tries to brush off. Isaac thinks that Kamari doesn’t notice his feelings when really she does but won’t admit it because the two often scuffle. Very Inuyasha-esque. The more she resists him, the harder Isaac tries and thus the more Kamari likes him back, this could lead up to a major emotional explosion, which is a good thing in my opinion.

    Isaac: “I try so hard to talk to you, why don’t you like me?!”

    Kamari: “Because I.. I..”

    Isaac:”You what?!

    Kamari: Because I do, I try not to, but I really like you”

    Issac is then thrown off.

    Isaac: “You do?” He blushes

  5. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 21 Nov 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Wow, I’ve had a lot of feedback on this question! I was expecting just one answer, but I got three! Aren’t I the lucky ducky? Haha.

    Brett:

    Romance isn’t my strong point either. Everything I’ve written is family, friendship or action oriented. I want a change for this book.

    My plan is to make it last for about two thirds of the book, before having something like Ragged Boy suggested. In the second book, before he sees her face, he almost kisses her but she freaks out and leaves, citing their alleged age difference. Both of them lied about their ages to draw suspicion away from their age groups. It seems to her that there are 6 years between them, and to him that there are three.

    Thanks! I’ve been told before that my ideas make me seem older than I am, but I am in middle school. (Or probably am, depending on how old middle schoolers are by your standards. By Aussie ones, anyone thirteen years old to seventeen are all smushed together into high school. We don’t have middle school. It goes: pre-primary, primary, high school and then TAFE, an apprenticeship or university)

    B. Mac:

    I think romances work better as they build up, too. I don’t believe in love at first sight.

    You wouldn’t believe how much the girls are hit on at my school. Even in religion class, the guys are stroking the girls’ hair and putting their arms around their waists. I make sure never to sit near a guy. There’s a group of girls who sit in the front corner of the room, and I’m one of them. It’s kind of the basis for Kamari’s freak-out reaction if she’s shown personal attention. All of us are like that.

    Hmm, I think I’ll go with Brett’s suggestion: intelligent but quirky.

    Ragged Boy:

    I’m crap with romance. I need a bit more practice, but I think I’ll go okay with this one. I’ve actually written a couple of beta scenes where they finally become a couple. I’ve never seen Inuyasha, but I’ve heard of it.

    Thanks to each of you for your input!

  6. B. Macon 21 Nov 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Hmm, OK. It sounds pretty awful if guys are making moves on girls in class, particularly a class on religion. According to the Bible, God commanded humans to be fruitful, but He didn’t say to have an audience!

    I’m not sure how much your audience (which may be largely non-Australian) will be used to young women getting hit on. But you can easily solve that by leaving as little as possible to the audience’s prior knowledge. If you make it as clear as possible how much she’s getting hit on, it won’t matter if readers are used to young women being hit on less.

  7. Keikoon 12 Aug 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I realize that it’s been a while since this was posted, but it was bothering me so I just had to leave a comment and say that affect is not always a verb. It can also be a noun that refers to a visual display of emotion.

  8. B. Macon 12 Aug 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Good call, Keiko. I’ve edited the article accordingly. Thanks for keeping us honest. 😉

    I would like to remind readers that affect is almost always a verb and effect is almost always a noun. Unless you’re writing for a high-brow publication like a scholarly journal, I would recommend staying away from the exceptions because they may come off as pretentious. For example, “to effect a change” is stilted and lifeless when compared to something like “to cause a change.”

  9. brukaoruon 21 Aug 2009 at 8:30 am

    –When your sentence ends with a question mark, the conversational tag should be uncapitalized. For example: “Are you leaving?” he asked.

    I just learned something, again. I didn’t realize you wouldn’t need to capitalize after a question mark. Thank you! 🙂

  10. J.H.M.on 15 Dec 2011 at 11:25 am

    Regarding #38: What of music, then? When you put an effect upon the timbre of an instrument, it is usually phrased as having been effected rather than affected. Granted, that’s a somewhat curious exception, but it is there…

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