Many mistakes that writers tend to make in their fiction are very common. I’ve already written about some of these, but thought that it would be helpful to give an overview of a few of them, in a single post.
So, here are some common writing mistakes, frequently made by fiction writers.
The primary focus here is upon mistakes often made by novelists, although some will also apply to short stories, novellas, screenplays, and so on.
Underdeveloped characters are extremely common.
No matter how amazing your plot and setting might be, you can’t afford to neglect character development.
Creating believable characters is essential.
In fact, some degree of weakness in other areas can actually be forgiven by many readers, as long as you have strong characters.
White Room Syndrome is another common writing problem.
It occurs when writers provide insufficient descriptive details of the physical locations, in which their scenes take place.
I recently wrote a post about White Room Syndrome, so I would suggest reading that, if you need more information.
Telling, instead of showing – or showing, instead of telling.
This is another subject covered in one of my recent posts. It would be hard not to have heard the standard advice: “Show, don’t tell.” It’s quoted, online and offline, everywhere that writing tips are quoted.
And yet, over-telling still remains an issue, for so many writers.
But what is less often mentioned, is that over-showing can also be a problem.
Take a look at my post about showing and telling, for more details.
Yes, backstory is important. You need to know about your characters’ histories, and the more information, the better.
But your reader probably only needs to know a tiny percentage of this background information. And modern readers are not patient.
It’s your job to weave the backstory into the main story, and keep the plot progressing, at a decent pace.
In short, don’t info dump. I address this somewhat in my post about common first chapter mistakes, since the start of a novel is often the place where info dumps tend to occur.
Descriptions involving characters looking into mirrors.
This is often seen in first person narratives, but is regularly encountered in every POV.
Of course, it’s not easy to convey physical descriptions of viewpoint characters, so a mirror can seem like a tempting option. But it’s been done to death, and tends to be the hallmark of amateur writing.
And, before you start considering alternative reflective surfaces – no, not okay.
In my first completed (shelved) novel, I had multiple viewpoint characters, but focused more so on Richard, who was basically the main viewpoint character, in a third person story.
And I cringe to remember my description of Rich, checking out his own reflection. Something about the window of Boots the chemist “doubling as a mirror” – and I even remember liking that part.
The character definitely came across as vain, which wasn’t my intention, and wasn’t appropriate.
I do discuss the subject of “descriptions via reflections”, in the post about first chapter mistakes, that I mentioned, and linked to, earlier.
Trying too hard to avoid the word “said”.
Said is far from dead, as I pointed out in my posts Writing Believable Dialogue and Creating Realistic Dialogue: Additional Thoughts.
So, please: less exclaiming, and more simple “saying”. It sounds so much better.
Similar character names.
Similar sounds. The same initials.
In the space of an entire novel with a large cast, you don’t need to take this tip to extremes, and to do so would be difficult. There are only 26 letters in the alphabet, so of course some of your characters can have names that begin with the same letter, or sound similar.
But here’s the thing: Yes, it’s realistic to have friends called Julie, Julia, Emily, Emma, and Gemma. But this is fiction, and we can make fiction less confusing than real life – so we should, for the sanity of our readers.
For more tips on naming characters, read my post on that subject.
And, still on the subject of names – be aware of the natural tendency to overuse names in dialogue.
Many, if not most, writers do this, on occasions.
It’s an issue that can easily be resolved at the editing and revision stage, however, so don’t over-think this one.
Starting your novel – or particular scenes – in the wrong place.
The most common problem is starting too early. You need to cut to the chase, and lose any boring build up elements.
The first chapter mistake post, again, does cover this subject, because it’s an issue often associated with the beginning of a story.
Unnecessary prologues or epilogues.
And, no – not all prologues or epilogues are unnecessary.
But some are.
And some aren’t, but they do become unnecessarily long. My post about epilogues should provide further clarification, and much of the advice can equally be applied to prologues.
Hopefully, this post provided a useful overview of many common problems, experienced by fiction writers.
I encourage you to explore the other articles mentioned, if you need additional advice on any of these common issues, and how to fix them in your writing.