Thursday, October 25, 2012
The 5 Biggest Writing Blunders
As I look over the title of this post, I realize there are no ‘biggest’ blunders applicable to every writer. Each one of us has her own litany of worst blunders. Often they’re mistakes we make over and over without realizing it, unless someone points them out to us.
Most writers are familiar with the most common blunders because editors and bloggers and craft books repeat them ad nauseum. And I’m going to repeat a few warnings, too. Here goes.
Show, don’t tell.
Don’t overuse adjectives and adverbs.
Use strong verbs.
Start your story at the right spot – not too early, not too late.
Don’t use clichés or overuse certain words. We all have our favorites.
Do your research, but don’t overdo, and don’t include all of it in your text.
Send your story to a publisher that buys the kind of books you write.
Use your dictionary more than your Thesaurus.
Here are 5 blunders that tend to trip me up every time:
Blunder # 1 -- Editing as you write.
Second guessing yourself slows you down and makes you afraid to let your story flow. You’ll probably lose your confidence and decide the story idea isn’t worth pursuing. You might decide your writing is amateurish and unworthy of publication. Editing as you go can make the text sound stiff. It can change your natural voice so your writing sounds generic and the product of too many critique partners.
Don’t judge your writing as you write because you might not finish. It’ll never seem good enough to continue on. At this point, you’re too close to the material to judge whether it’s any good. Go back later and revise when the words aren’t fresh in your mind. Often we leave part of the meaning in our heads and not on the screen because we’re too involved to tell the difference.
Sometimes we fall in love with our sparkling words and think they’re too perfect to cut. Truly, it’s not like cutting your heart out. If you won’t cut the excess then either you won’t sell your story, or if you do, your editor will delete those words for you. It’s less painful if you do it yourself.
Blunder #2 -- Forgetting your theme.
Theme is what you’re trying to tell the reader through the story. Can you convey your theme in one sentence? I try to keep my theme simple and clear and most of all I try to remember it. Sometimes I get so carried away with my characters or my plot, I forget the theme should be woven in.
I think it’s safe to say the theme of romance novels is Love conquers all. Inspirational themes might include forgiveness, trust in God, or redemption. A Bible verse could become your theme.
You don’t want your reader to think you’re writing about one thing on page one only to discover on page five you’ve changed your theme. At the same time, don’t be too obvious. Or too subtle! You don’t want the reader to be so caught up in the story he can’t see the message. It’s a balancing act. The reader should understand the theme by the end of the book.
Remember the theme might be perfectly clear to you, but readers might interpret it differently. We’re all subjective. We see things through the lens of our own experiences.
If you tend to forget what your story is trying to say, or if you have a habit of changing it mid-stream, write out your theme and keep the reminder near your computer.
Remember theme is not plot.
Blunder #3 -- Preaching.
I find a lot more preaching in inspirational novels than in any other type of book. Does any one agree or do you disagree? Christian writers have a message and they don’t want their readers to miss it. It’s a crucial part of the genre. But don’t try to oversell it. As I said before, keep the message subtle enough so a reader won’t want to throw the book across the room because it’s too preachy. Not everyone appreciates a 300 page sermon. Consider your audience. Is it made of readers who believe as you do, or readers who have a different world view? Who are you writing for? Of course you probably want to write for both audiences, but remember, it’s tricky to appeal to everyone.
To avoid preaching, show, don’t tell. So much comes back to that. Showing will make your point clearer and more memorable. It’s easy to remember a great scene.
Blunder #4 – Forgetting Story Structure.
I’m NOT suggesting you plot if that isn’t how you write. We’re all write differently. One way isn’t better than another. But every genre story has a beginning, middle and end. Know your plot points and know what readers expect from the genre you’re writing. A romance needs a happy ending; a mystery is satisfying when the villain in caught and justice is served.
If you let your characters write their own story without your guidance they might have a difficult journey finding their way to their final destination. That’s fine if you don’t mind spending a lot of time revising and rewriting. Some writers look at their first draft as another type of outline. It works for them and that’s what counts.
I know writers who could never follow an outline, but they instinctively know where they’re going and stick to a path they know will lead to a great ending. They don’t know their plot points in advance, but they understand when those changes in the story should occur. That probably takes some experience.
Either way, a genre story must have some structure.
I like some kind of outline because I’m easily lost. I’m apt to put scenes in the wrong place. But as long as I know when something important/a change in direction (plot point) is coming, I feel free to let my imagination go wild. There are a lot of ways to get from Point A to Point B, so I trust myself to find the best way. Sometimes I run amok and have to cut a scene along the way. So be it. I’ll just write another one.
Blunder #5 – Being Arrogant.
Obviously a writer knows her story better than anyone else. But she might not be able to see that she’s not telling it in the best way for her readers. A story can be as vivid as primary colors to a writer, but to a reader it’s gray. What your trying so hard to convey isn’t coming across.
Your editor can see this. So trust her advice, especially if you’re a new writer. Don’t think you always know best just because you’re the creator. No editor likes a know-it-all, particularly one who’s wrong and can’t see it. Or admit it. Be teachable and humble.
Do you have any blunders to add to the list?
In honor of Seekerville’s 5th birthday, I’m giving away 5 Starbuck gift cards and 5 one-page critiques. Please leave your e-mail address.
Here’s the cover of the German version of Love on a Dime.