Common Writing Mistakes



~  Writing reports rather than scenes. I see this one frequently. The writer mistakes writing about events in report form for writing scenes that engage both characters and readers. If you’ve been accused of telling rather than showing, if the story is all in your character’s thoughts rather than playing out in real time on the page, your fiction may be more report than story.


~  Writing boring dialogue. Writers can forget that dialogue should raise the conflict level as well as advance the story. Dialogue that’s bland, too agreeable, or too complete doesn’t create conflict.


~  Using clichés and common phrases. This is in place of fresh wording or phrases specific to a particular story and its characters. While I’m suggesting you use words and phrases that are peculiar to your characters, I’m also talking about removing clichés and banal phrases that could be found in any story. Rather than make your story sound familiar or stale, make it sound new.


~  Turning characters into taking heads. This happens when the writer fails to include setting details, character movements, and character interaction with props from the setting. If your characters talk non-stop, without pausing to move in or interact with the setting, you’re essentially presenting readers with bodiless talking heads. While not every section of dialogue must be interrupted by character actions or movement (that creates a new problem), you don’t want readers having to wonder where the characters are or what they’re doing. You should make that apparent.


~  Omitting sensory details. Both characters and readers have senses—put that knowledge to work for your fiction. Omitting the sense element can leave your stories flat, unable to compete with real-world distractions. Give characters sounds and sights to respond to. Show what scents move them. Have the feel of objects and the touch of other characters mean something to them. Characters who react to sensory elements seem real. And their reactions help ensnare the reader, give them shared experiences.


~  Failing to push or increase conflict. Some writers shy away from conflict, even with imaginary people. But conflict is one of the primary elements of fiction. Your main character should face conflict, should instigate conflict. Conflict should be of varying levels and come from multiple sources. And the level of conflict should increase as the story advances.


~  Failing to vary the pace. Stories should not maintain the same pace or same intensity throughout. Readers should instead feel an escalation toward some climax. The failure to pick up the pace and/or push the emotional stakes as the story heads toward the climax is a mistake I often see.