When I first started writing and sending my attempts out to beta partners and critique sites, it wasn’t unusual to get a wide range of comments from “This sucks.” to “This is the best thing I’ve ever read!” Just goes to show how different people view what you write, and it’s pointless to try to please all of them. One thing that was consistent were the following comments:
1. Don’t be so descriptive and technical.
A big comment I got a lot was “I love your descriptions, but they go on too long and I started skimming.”
Skimming? Oh no. No skimming in my books. It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn because I am such a description hound, but there is a happy medium. There is no need to take your reader on a tour of the room unless each of the things you point out are relevant to the story in some way. For example:
“Above the cherry-wood mantel hung a gilded mirror. Upon closer inspection of the frame, I noticed the handiwork revealed cherubs chasing rabbits through vines of ivy. Each cherub possessed a unique expression and varying lengths of hair, as well as age. The intricate work down to their fingernails, was exquisite.”
Now unless my main character is an art dealer and is looking for such a piece, or those cherubs are about to come to life, this information is way too much. For most, knowing there is a gilded mirror over the mantel is enough information.
2. Voice change.
Writing a character’s voice and keeping it consistent is difficult. With me, my ‘adult’ voice creeps in now and then and my teens sound older than they really are. Thank goodness I have a couple of good beta readers that are excellent at finding my ‘voice’ mistakes and offering suggestions on how to fix them. I am also thankful for my teen son who has no problem telling me he wouldn’t say something a certain way.
3. Disembodied body parts and having eyes do strange things
All of us writers do it, and most of the time we don’t see it when we edit. That’s why we have beta readers and critique partners. How many times have you written something like, “His hand reached for his gun.” Is his hand not connected to his body? Did it wander off on its own? Yep, funny stuff, but not as funny as what we get our eyes to do.
We’ve all seen the phrases:
- Their eyes met across the room.
- Her eyes devoured him. (wow, those are some big hungry, man-eating eyes)
- His eyes fell to the floor. (splat)
- Her eyes were glued to the book. (ouch)
I used to roll my eyes and grimace whenever I saw comments like this because everyone knows what the author meant. Still, eyes are not disembodied body parts that can wander around. I’ve learned to rev up the heat or the tension by showing and involving the reader in my scene.
Instead of “Her eyes devoured him.” try something like:
“Her sultry body and come-hither stare consumed him, burning him in a way he hadn’t felt since Nina died.”
Yeah, it’s a bit longer, but the picture is much clearer, don’t you think?
What are some mistakes you’ve learned as a writer you’d like to share?
- 5 Editing Tips To Polish Your Writing (seventeenmagness.wordpress.com)
- 8 Copy Editing Tricks to Make You Look Professional – Whiteboard Friday (seomoz.org)
- Writers write, Readers read…Can’t We Just Support Each Other? (paigematthews.com)
- Guest Post: Tips to Proofread Your Own Work (backwoodsauthor.com)
- Critiques Make Your Writing Better, So Grin and Bear Them (hunterlewand.wordpress.com)
- J.B. McGee ~ Top Ten Things I’ve Learned Being an Author (literatiliteraturelovers.com)
- Why You Need Fearless Beta Readers (descentintoslushland.wordpress.com)
- 5 Tips For New Authors (rushilgulati.wordpress.com)
- Writing’s Hard (enigmainklings.blogspot.com)
- The Bitterest Pill to Swallow? (traciewrites.wordpress.com)
19 thoughts on “Top Three Writing Mistakes”
I’ve gotten the “skimming” comment from betas as well… no bueno…
I am sometimes guilty of not putting enough description in my story. I’m in such a hurry to write it down before I forget it..then I go back and describe everything. I love the comment about your kid. I have five girls (one that is too young to read) who read my stuff and tell me if it fits the lingo. I listen to them all the time making sure I’m up on it. They roll their eyes if I use it outside of my stories though…lol
LOL! So do my kids. “Um, no, Mom. Don’t ever say that again in public.” Ha ha ha. Sometimes I do it just to annoy them. They always get me back one way or another. 🙂
I’m guilty of being overly descriptive. I love descriptions! Great post. Thank you.
1’s not a problem for me, because I tend to go too far in the opposite direction by not describing enough. I swear, I spend more time doubling back halfway through a chapter to let the reader know, oh yeah, we’re in a room, with…stuff; like, there’s a couch, so no, the people weren’t sitting on the air…
2 is usually only a problem when I forget to shut-up and just let the characters talk. *They* know how they sound, I just have to listen well enough to transcribe it right.
I’ve never minded 3, because figures of speech play such a big part in communication. Taking everything too literally leaves far less room for poetry within prose. So I wouldn’t so much label this one a “mistake” as I would a “habit that might potentially annoy somebody”.
I’ve done a fair bit of editing and it’s amazing how many times writers decide to change the names of their characters. This is fine if you make ALL the changes and not miss some (this is done through ‘find/replace’). I’ve read stories where George becomes Peter and then reverts back to George again. It can be very confusing but strangely enough it’s a common mistake 😉
Good tips to remember, always love reading your blog Jen. You remind me to be a better writer every day.
aww, you’re so sweet. Thank you. Now I have to help my son write a term paper on Hitler’s military strategy during WWII. If he hadn’t been a murderer, he might have gone down in history as one of the world’s most ingenious men.
I don’t envy you. I think that’s one paper i’d never want to write!
I actually learned a lot about Mr. Hitler. You know how we always hear “no one is all bad”? Have you seen some of Hitler’s paintings? Did you know he was a singer in a boy’s choir? He was also very loyal to Germany and fought bravely in WWI, was injured twice, and received several medals for his bravery. He was also the mastermind behind and inventor of many of the advancements that are still in use today. I’m not saying I like the man, but there was some ‘good’ in him. He’s that ultimate villain you love to hate. After reading all the documentation my son gathered, I have an understanding of why Hitler did what he did. I don’t agree with his reasoning, but I understand it. He’s a real life Voldemort. It’s really kind of cool because reading about Hitler gave me more of a perspective on how to flush out my own villains even more. Give the readers a reason to love the antagonist yet loathe him at the same time. It’s the stuff great stories are made of.
I think your take on it is exactly why I wouldn’t want to write it. He is one individual I don’t want to empathize with! But your take is right. We never want to write a anti-hero who is all evil (though i’ve read a few that were well written). A good Villian must exhibit good and bad traits, else we never “get” them.
One of my mistakes is to give too much unnecessary information rather than trusting the reader to fill in the blanks – not in terms of descriptions like yours, but just things that are happening. For instance, if a character is getting herself a glass of milk, I have to remind myself that we don’t need to know that she walked up to the fridge, and opened the fridge, and reached inside the fridge, and took the milk out, and put it on the counter, and closed the fridge, and got a glass down from the cupboard, and put that down on the counter etc…ok, I’m not quite THAT bad, but sometimes not far off!
I’ve done that a lot, too. It’s amazing how many words we can shave off our MS when we edit these scenes to make them more compact.
Run with it! 🙂
Like you, changing my character’s voice was something I did regularly until I worked it into my story – that she matured because of her experiences in the past. It is still something I have to concentrate on with other stories where maturing my character isn’t something I intentionally want to do.
The advice about disembodied body parts is good. I have caught myself making the same mistakes – and I do tend to ramble when it comes to descriptions.
I had a thought when you were describing the gilded mirror. In a couple of stories, I have used mirrors as magical portals and the way you detailed the cherubs on the frame made me wonder if they might come to life and grab the one who gazes into the mirror, dragging them to another realm! You can now use that beautiful description, if you carry on with a story about those cherubs! lol
Funny. I revised my post to reflect that at the very moment you were commenting on my blog! LOL!! Great minds think a lot. It also prompted me to start another short story.
I don’t know about you, Elisa, but I still make the mistakes and have to go back and fix them. I love your ‘glimmering with expressions’. I laughed at that one because I’ve been guilty of the same. Thanks for stopping by and following, and have a wonderful weekend! 🙂 🙂
I love your examples, especially the disembodied eye ones. I used to be VERY guilty of disembodied eyes that glimmered with expressions.