Writing Fiction? 10 Common Writing Errors That Make You Look Like a Newbie

Writing Fiction? 10 Common Writing Errors That Make You Look Like a Newbie

You’re about to work on your first big writing project. Whether it’s a novel, memoir, or short story, you don’t want everyone to know it’s your first (even if you’re shaking in your boots, just a little).

Many first-time writers fall into traps that can decrease the quality of their piece, and these newbie blunders can diminish their credibility.

New writers fall into these habits for all kinds of reasons: putting pressure on themselves to write something enormous and profound, attempts to mimic other authors, and probably in the most common occurrence, a bad case of writer’s block during their first big project of their career.

The pressure is on and your brain has gone into panic mode, resorting to comfortable cliched phrases.

Not to worry: these writing pitfalls can be easily sidestepped with some awareness.

Here are 10 of the most common writing errors that new authors should strive to avoid.

1. Including too many cliches

Just because it’s the most popular phrase doesn’t mean it’s the most effective. Consider your personal experiences before plunking down a common saying or phrase — those unique reactions are what give you an edge as a writer.

Even when writing fiction, use your own perspective to your advantage as you play with metaphors and other ways of developing your story.

2. Writing inauthentic dialogue

Suspending disbelief is easy when the dialogue in your story universe sounds natural. Dialogue is extremely hard to do well, but can also make or break your story.

Listen to conversations around you; take note of verbal ticks or idiosyncrasies that appear in normal human speech.

3. Rushing the plot

Getting your characters from Point A to Point B is certainly important, but not so much as providing a solid foundation for these transitions.

Whether you decide as you go or map out your character’s story beforehand, ask your editors or critique group if they can name the cause and effect of each major event. DIY MFA’s mapping technique can help you organize the interwoven events that take place over the course of your story.

4. Choosing a cop-out ending

“And then he woke up” is a perfect example of a cop-out: an ending that negates all other given information that the readers have been led to believe is useful in analyzing the plot, characters, and ending.

After fully engaging with the universe you’ve created, your readers don’t want to feel tricked!

5. Abandoning or using your characters

If a character suddenly makes an “exciting” choice that makes no sense with his or her aforementioned stable traits, your readers will instantly question your motivation for inserting that choice into your story.

To avoid this pitfall, take special consideration when choosing your point of view. An event in your character’s life that might read as mundane in a typical third-person scenario might come across as more significant in a first-person voice.

6. Repeating syntax

An entire paragraph — let alone an entire novel — of “The [adjective] [noun] [verb-ed] the [adjective] [noun]” sentences will not hold the attention of your audience, no matter the reading level.

If you’re cranking out a first draft, don’t spend too much time worrying about this. But if you’re ready to have a colleague review your work, scan each page for this predictable repetition.

7. Not trusting your audience

Over-explanation can be just as harmful to your work as under-explanation. As mentioned earlier, your audience does not like to feel deceived, and they certainly do not like to feel belittled, either.

Much of the joy of reading is discovering your connection to the author’s writing. Remember to let your readers dig into your story independently.

8. Changing the setting excessively

Unless constant shifts in space and time are essential to your piece, you need not create pauses after every event. Connecting to a piece of writing is challenging when there isn’t at least some sense of fluidity.

While there can be many settings, timelines, or universes — and creating an unusual format is always an interesting feat — consider whether every shift is a necessary one.

9. Not doing your research

Even if you “write what you know,” it’s critical to verify your information for factuality, especially if your story is heavily based in realism.

Say that your story’s villain is a world-renowned scientist; you’ll lose your readers with the first innacurate algorithm. No one is scared of a mad scientist that can’t even do the math for his own experiments.

Figure out how to access the databases at your local public or university library to locate journals, documents, and other research to support your story.

10. Forgetting your audience

“You can’t win ‘em all,” they say, but you can win over the hearts of your particular demographic. Know who you’re writing for and who you plan to reach, or you risk reaching nobody. If you’re in love with your historical fiction piece, don’t write to please the romance enthusiasts.

If you find a couple of cliches or other common errors after your first draft, don’t sweat it!

We’ve all come across at least one of these holes in our own writing. In the end, a good portion of creating fresh, interesting work relies on trusting your own instincts.

Keep an eye out, use good judgement, and most importantly, write from your own experiences and your own heart.

Filed Under: Craft
James Chartrand

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17 comments

  • Great tips, Sarah!

    I have often counseled writers along similar lines. For example, #7, Trust Your Readers, is often the root of the common maxim, “Show me; don’t tell me.” When we sit alone with our computer screen, it is hard to imagine that anyone will ever understand the point we are trying to make if we are subtle about it, so it’s easy to fall into blunt revelations like, “He was a cruel man whom everyone in town feared.” Respect your readers enough to communicate this by giving an example of the townsfolk’s interaction with him. You will probably find that the words “cruel” and “feared” are not necessary at all.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Coaching
    epiclesisconsulting.com
    epiclesisconsulting.etsy.com

  • Great tips! My biggest newbie mistake that didn’t make the list is overuse of the word “was”. Was jumping, was lifting, was crying, etc. The easiest fix was to replace those with jumped, lifted, cried, etc.

  • Phoebe says:

    Thanks for the tips – I’ve actually bookmarked the page to check when I’m editing! I know I have over-explained and tended towards cliche phrases in the past, so this makes a great checklist of things to consider, especially since I’m currently writing my first novel-length story.

    • Caroline says:

      Omg. You didn’t overuse the cliche’ did you? Like a worm stuck in the marsh, or a branch loud as a bark
      Have you tried using my Glib language otherwise known as The Hint. Let me give you a Hint it’s a text it’s a verse its a Hint
      However
      What’s yours is yours
      And what’s not yours is not yours. What about the cliche’ did you not use properly? Was it the action of the cliche’ or the circumstance. With deference to you
      ThAt cliche’ was yours. You can do it
      Go for it
      I believe in your writing!
      Just write me if you need a Hint!
      I can lend you a Hint
      Maybe even a Glib
      Have a good day!
      Caroline
      Getting the website
      Give me a chance

  • A nice list, I filed it.

    About #1. You really hit a nerve here! I’m reading Wikipedia about clichés and… I’m on the fence!

    Or should I say: You certainly provoked a reaction in me by referring to a sensitive topic. I’m reading Wikipedia about clichés and… I’m not ready to make a decision about their use yet.

    I usually try to use compatible symbols. In a story where the protagonist is “gambling”, figuratively, then I use gambling terms throughout.

    Often, I do it for humorous effect, and I use alliteration and rhythm.

    Now you made me think again. That’s a good thing.

    Thanks!

    P.S.
    My best example of cliché stuffing. Curious if you have any comments in this case:
    https://medium.com/@peterbru/j4ckp0t-5d0283f5f5d

  • Great post Sarah,
    Writing is not an easy thing especially if you’re a newbie but its also something that can be perfected over time. You just have to keep on doing it so you’ll be able to get use to it.

    All the mistakes listed above are common mistakes writers and some do not even know they’re making them using myself as example, but its good for someone to point them out to use once awhile so we’ll be aware of them just as you just did.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Sham says:

      To,

      Theodore and Sarah,

      Newbie here onto my second short story. I certainly find it more courageous {?} and easier to tackle my second story. The story doesn’t have much action, but the words are flowing.The effect is more like the Stephen King series, -‘The Dark Tower”, I believe it may be “The Waste Land” of that series, although certainly and absolutely not in his class.

      In fact,it may turn out dull, but I keep on writing, since I have been given a premise to start it from, and my viewpoint although as not exciting as it should be, is a beginning from that viewpoint.

      The second thing is about the “Cop Out”. I certainly was wondering if I should use the “dreaming end”. But luckily I came to see your article and it helped me make my mind to use another way to reach the conclusion.

      Thanks and Regards to you both,

      Sham

  • Am plaused! I’ve been caught. It’s time to make ammends.

  • Martin J says:

    I think the real problem is the deluge of “writers” the American eduction system dumps (unceremoniously) into the workforce every year. Good writers (1% of those who try) find their way without any institutional prodding. The other 99%–after some awkward flailing–end up working as an institutional staffer in a bureaucracy, in a role unrelated to writing, or in come capacity that thwarts the 1%.

  • Thanks for the tips Sarah. Yes these are very important. When I wrote my first book I did have some of the same problems

  • Walt Townsend says:

    Great practical advice. I am guilty of each error listed, as well others. Your tips have enabled me to recognize and work toward correcting them. Thanks.

  • Codex Regius says:

    So you are accusing Lewis Carroll of coping out? Interesting.

    As for “not doing your research”, doing your research can be as awful:
    “The Mouser made a very small parry in carte so that the thrust of the bravo from the east went past his left side by a hair’s breath. He instantly riposted. His adversary, springing desparately back, parried in turn in carte. Meanwhile Fahfrd, facing the two bravos from the west, swept aside their low thrusts with somewhat larger, down-sweeping parries in seconde and low prime.”
    Yeah, I can perfectly see that …

  • Bob B says:

    Codex Regius: Think you completely missed the point of both items. Lewis Carroll’s world was not invalidated by Alice’s awakening from a dream due to the skill with which he created that world; he foreshadows her falling asleep early on, and the world itself is fantastical and imaginative so Alice’s awakening is completely in line with the story and not a cheat. Plus, these are all guidelines, not hard and fast rules. There are going to be circumstances where excellent authors have violated them all. And I think your “research” example is actually a great case for #7: trust your audience. They don’t need excessive explanation or details. But the details that you do include had better be accurate.

  • I’ve found that #5 comes up often in my writing group. In order to further a plot–we know what needs to happen, but aren’t always sure how to make it happen–we have characters do and say things that *ordinary* people wouldn’t choose to do or say. (Made-up) example: Would parents today leave a young child alone in a house so he could conveniently be kidnapped? As a writer, I’d want to lay careful groundwork for such a decision. In my own case, I value my writing group for their ability to tell me if my characters are reacting believably to events or dialogue. My fellow writers are great at catching unmotivated actions or reactions!