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.