Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Common Writing Mistakes to Look Out For

While I'm editing and rewriting my second novel, I find it's worth looking for common mistakes that slow the writing down or just look amateurish. As I write first drafts without rereading and checking over things except for plot elements, these little mistakes sneak in easily. It's best not to do this while you're writing as you'll never move forward. 

I have a list of these from my teaching past, but I've picked up some new ones from the writing group I've been attending. Some of these you may not do often, some you may over do.

These are just a few that have popped into my head as I've been rewriting and workshopping lately, not an exhaustive list by any means. 

- 'to be' and boring verbs. 'He was old.' 'It had been a long day.' Give me more information, don't tell me about it, show me. Spice up your verb usage, break out the dictionary and look for synonyms. It's nice to mix it up, but don't be afraid to use 'to be'. As in all things, balance.

- overuse of adverbs. This also falls in the telling versus showing category. Don't tell me 'he ran quickly', show it through more details. 'His feet skimmed over the grass as he raced down the hill'.

- filter words. We talk a lot about getting more of the character's senses involved in the story. How does she feel, how does an item taste or smell or sound like. But you don't need to broadcast the fact that you're adding these descriptive details by telling is 'it tasted like', 'she felt'. Here's an article that lists lots of filter words which could be used less. The hard part is editing them out as it's not as easy as replacing a verb. Rather than say 'it smelled mouldy' say 'mould oozed from the cracks, filling the air with its rancid spores'. It makes your writing more immediate and interesting.

- using the phrase 'began to/begins to' or 'started to/starts to'. For example - 'she started to get up.' Why not just say 'She pulled herself up.' or be more specific and tell us how she did it.

- using the word 'just'. I discovered I use this word a lot. 'I just don't know what to do.' 'He was just picking up the car when . . .' Do you need to use it so often? Do a search and discover how many times you use it and if it seems like a lot, go through and see if they're necessary.

- repeating information - this can be through over-explaining an image or detail or it can be giving the same information in different scenes through different characters. If you've just showed your main character breaking up with her boyfriend, don't have her explain what happened to her best friend in the next scene. You can use indirect speech for this 'I told her I broke up with Joe' and then move on to new information.

- character descriptions - describing every character's hair and eye colour, what they're wearing in depth. This is not something I do, in fact I probably don't describe my characters enough, but I really dislike reading it in other's books. Pick a detail or two, preferably not hair and eye colour, and focus on that, something that gives us a feel for their personality rather than just how they look. 

- using 'there' too much - This is a new one for me and my next edit will involve looking at how I use 'there are' and 'there were'. Here's an interesting article about it. 

On to rewriting my first novel, I'm getting to the point where I feel the new section will soon meld with the old novel. I still have a lot of patching and smoothing to do and adding things later on to up the action. 

Best of luck with your writing or rewriting.

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