Top Three Writing Mistakes

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?

The First 50 Pages – Part 1 – Staying out of the slush pile

Submitting your manuscript to an agent or publisher is a scary event.  By the time all is said and done, your hair and your fingernails may be gone, your nerves will be shattered and you may suffer from months of sleep deprivation.  Even after you hit that submit button or hand your manuscript over to the postal service, you still wonder what happens on the other end.  You wait and you wait and you wait some more.  Heh.  You thought the submission part was the worst?  Wait until the waiting begins.  Torture.  Pure torture.

So how can you ensure your submission has the best chance?  Assuming you have done your homework and have submitted your manuscript to an agent/publisher who specializes in your genre, there are several things you can do to make sure you manuscript shines as much as possible.

Today, I’m going to give you a common list of things an agent or publisher looks for to reject a manuscript.  Remember, they are busy bees and they are looking for reasons NOT to accept your work.  It is your job as a writer to make sure you don’t give them a reason to reject your MS.  Arm yourself.  Be prepared, and even if your work is rejected, remember, it is not personal.  Publishing is a business.  Learn the business and you have a better chance at succeeding.

A published author gave this list to me at a writer’s group so I apologize if don’t credit the right person for the information.  If you wrote it, please send me your info so I can credit you properly.  This list was put together by agents and publishers and gives the primary reason manuscripts are rejected within the first 50 pages…most of the time within the first 2.

  • weak first sentence; lack of engaging hook
  • starting with a dream scenario
  • passive voice
  • stale story idea
  • prologues that don’t work
  • telling instead of showing
  • point-of-view errors
  • shallow characters
  • plot with no spine
  • too many stock characters
  • lack of beats for pacing and description
  • stilted dialogue
  • clumsy fiction craftsmanship
  • inadequate descriptions of characters and settings (or details arrive too late)
  • starting the main action too soon
  • too much back story
  • too many clichés
  • going into flashbacks too early in the story
  • story starts too slow
  • too many characters introduced at one time
  • jumping to a new viewpoint character to early
  • too little conflict
  • lack of stakes or a ticking time bomb
  • mechanical and grammatical errors

If your manuscript starts with any of these, you may want to reconsider another edit before sending it off.

Hope this helps.  Can you think of anything else that may cause an agent or publisher to reject a manuscript?  Please feel free to let us in on your rejection experience if you have one and what you learned.