Publetariat Dispatch: 5 Mistakes of New Fiction Authors

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and publishing consultant Joanna Penn looks at some common mistakes among newly-minted fiction authors.

However many books on writing we read, and however many novels we have consumed in our genre, there are still things that we get wrong as new novelists.

I know I fall into these traps. I also reviewed a friend’s manuscript  the other day and found myself telling him exactly the same things.

So I  thought you might like to add your thoughts as well since we can all  learn from each other. Please do leave a comment [on the original post] with your top mistakes of new fiction writers.

This is not an exhaustive list, but just some obvious things that, if  fixed, may transform your manuscript. Aspects may also vary by genre.

(1) Show, don’t tell.

Now I know why editors and publishers say this over and over again.  It really stands out in a manuscript when you read with a fresh eye. If  the Nazis are marching into a French village, don’t report the event in  third person. Instead, relate the event from the point of view of a  character in the crowd. Make it personal and show their reaction to the  event by their behavior. Deep, interior monologues can be replaced with  characters doing something or saying something.

(2) Consistent Point of View (POV)

I don’t think I really ‘got’ point of view until I paid for my first  professional edit. I jumped into the heads of the different characters  within one scene which can be confusing for readers. Yes, some writers  do it but it’s best to get POV sorted before you start playing around.

POV is also easier if you think in terms of writing scenes. Each  scene has a setting, something happens to advance the plot or reveal  character, and there is a point of view. Who is telling the story? Then  be consistent within the scene, or if you change heads, then only do it  once. There’s no exact science to this, but there are some conventions  that make it easier for the reader.

For more on story engineering, check out Larry Brook’s fantastic tips in this interview.

(3) Deliver on the promise you make the reader.

If there is a murder at the beginning, then we need to know who did  it by the end. No matter if it is a massive 7 part series. The story arc  in the one book needs to be complete. This is one of the reasons I  personally don’t like serial books. I like my story to be encompassed in  one book. I want the payoff of a good ending.

There needs to be coherence around theme, character arc, plot as well  as delivering to the promise of the genre you advertise the book as.  I’m writing action-adventure thriller, so I can’t spend half the book in  one room pondering the world as a literary fiction author could. If  you’re writing romance, there needs to be a happy ending. (Although  apparently, a love story can have an unhappy ending in the vein of  Nicholas Sparks!)

(4) Overuse of first names in dialogue

This jumps off the page as the sign of an amateur, and I am  absolutely guilty as charged in my first novel. Read your dialogue out  loud – with another person. Someone has commented on the blog before  about reading it aloud to a recorder and then playing it back again.  This is all time-consuming though. I notice this in a lot of indie  books.

(5) Overuse of exclamation marks

Yes, this can be fixed by a proof-reader/ copy-editor, but sometimes  the text needs to be rewritten as well as the excess punctuation  removed. It’s trying too hard to communicate emotion to the reader,  without showing it in the action or behavior of the character.

Tips on usage from The Perfect Write.

“Some experts feel that exclamation points are the sign  of a lazy writer, or worse–an amateur. Whether the rationale for either  opinion is sound or not, there are well-grounded reasons for both.”

Conclusion: we can all improve.

One of the marvelous things about being a writer is how we can keep  improving. Every word we write can be a step towards improvement. The  editing process is all about improvement, about making the book the best  it can be. Get people reading your work and critiquing it. We have to  keep learning and this is the only way.

What do you think the tell-tale errors of new fiction writers are? Please do leave a comment [on the original post].


This is a reprint from Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn.


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