This Business of Writing

10 Common Writing Errors

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on April 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the PODCAST of this article.


All writers begin writing at the same point in their lives, as novices. And as such, most make many of the same errors as they hone their craft of writing. Today, I’ll discuss some of the most common writing mistakes with the hope it’ll move you along your writing path a bit sooner than otherwise.

1. Grammar is the most obvious mistakes novice writers makes. English is a difficult language on its own and contractions, dangling participles, punctuation and all the rest only add to the confusion. However, to improve your writing, improve your grammar. I use Reader’s Digest “Success with Words” to answer my questions.

2. Empty adverbs are another sure sign a writer is a new to the craft of writing. Most often these are the dreaded “-ly” words that have crept into the American lexicon. A classic example of how these words should not be used comes to us from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. In it he writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

3. Poor dialogue will indicate a novice almost at once. Dialogue in novels is a tricky device to master but all it really takes is a bit of knowledge and practice. See this post for more on how to write DIALOGUE.

4. The nefarious verb, “to be” and all its devious forms tells your reader you’re new to the game. (And I can prove that with my first manuscript.) This word and its cousins flatten your narrative and slows the pace of your novel. I’ll again use the example from The Da Vinci Code to illustrate this. He writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.” Learn more about the verb “TO BE” here.

5. Lists of anything denote a novice. New writers might describe their setting with a list of things the character sees or they might depict someone’s emotions by clicking off a list of feelings the character experiences. This concept reaches into almost every facet of a novel. The problem with lists is they bore a reader. It’s as if you force them to tick off items on a visual clipboard. If you’re trying to describe something, focus on the small things that lie in unlikely places. For more on imagery, read this BLOG POST.

6. People in the early stages of their writing career often “tell” instead of “show” their story. That is, they issue vague statements in lieu of describing an idea in more detail. A classic example relates to how a writer depicts people. The inexperienced writer will describe a character as “beautiful” whereas the experienced writer describes the person in some detail so to allow the reader to visualize the woman’s beauty. They might write of the “perfect symmetry of her features,” which allows the reader to form their own mental pictures.

7. Talking heads are another common error of inexpert writers. A talking head is a character who exchanges in dialogue before the reader knows about this person or the setting in which they are placed. If you see pages with nothing other than dialogue on it, you may need to flesh out the characters, the setting or some other aspect of your scene.

8. Point of view issues identify new writers, too. POINT OF VIEW, or POV, indicates who is telling the story. There are a number of points of view and each has its rules as to who can tell the story. In First Person POV, the narrator of the story is the only character allowed to tell us what transpires. This means things he can’t see, for example the future, cannot be brought into the story. Further, this is the only character from which the reader will receive a firsthand insight into their feelings and thoughts. Readers can only learn about other characters by way of the narrator’s interpretations. In contrast, third person POV allows for more characters to get involved, but only one at a time. You need to move to another scene or chapter to bring in another character’s direct input.

9. New writers often don’t create scenes the reader can visualize. Did you realize the human mind works in pictures rather than words? This forces us to write in such a way as to “paint a picture” with our words. New authors often have yet to master than technique of creative detailing. You can learn more about COMPELLING IMAGERY in this article.

10. And finally, there is the tendency for new writers to pepper their stories with clichés. This is a sign they have yet to develop their creative abilities.

By no means is this a complete list of common writing mistakes, but if you review your work and find these everyday errors are missing, you’re well on your way to writing a great novel. I do hope your writing continues to improve and I also hope you know by now, I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

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  1. I have find your article very interesting however I have two doubts (that show how much of a novel writer I am).
    first you worte: “Lists of anything denote a novice” my doubt is: maybe listing when describing is a mistake since you have to give details to the reader so he or she can imagen the character or scene, but doesn’t listing help acelerate the path of the story in certain moments? Or is it always a mistake?

    second: you wrote: And finally, there is the tendency for new writers to pepper their stories with clichés. What exactly do you mean by clichés? Because (I think I’m maybe wrong). There are traits of certain stories that are always there becuase they are part of the popular culture, for example a werewolf will always transform with the full moon and if we change that the reader can think that we have change the typical story to much for his, her liking.

    Thank you very much for the helpful post

  2. […] 10 Common Writing Errors C. Patrick Schulze provides a list of common writing mistakes made by novices, some of the usual suspects and some new ones, and solutions for fixing them. […]

  3. As an author and editor I appreciated this post a great deal. POV and “talking heads” are common weaknesses I see in novice writers’ manuscripts. Being an editor is helpful to my own writing as seeing what does not work well helps me to write well, hmm?

    Love your blog, will stop back again soon.

    The Old Silly

  4. 6. People in the early stages of their writing career often “show” instead of “tell” their story.

    Should this be the other way around – that novice writers “tell” when they ought to “show”?

  5. Patrick, Thanks for a helpful post. I’m sure I committed all those sins in my first novel, which will never, ever, see the light of day. I’d like to think I’ve efficiently grown up by now, or should I say by now I’d like to think growing up has efficiently happened to me. Literally.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Tracy.

    You’ve mentioned how I edit, one pass for one item, another pass for the next and so on. I’m not sure it’s the most efficient methodology, but it works for me.

    Nice to hear from you.

    Patrick

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